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‘Coolio-style hair’: LAPD union official’s column Sparks backlash and debate

By: LIBOR JANY, Staff Writer
Dec. 8, 2023

Hours into a standoff with a barricaded suspect in northeast Los Angeles earlier this year, a Black officer said he was cornered by a white lieutenant who berated him for sporting a beard that was longer than permitted by LAPD regulations.

“This department is accepting anything now,” the lieutenant said, according to a complaint filed in the case. The officer who reported the incident declined to comment and asked that his name be withheld, citing fear of retaliation within the department.

The officer explained in his complaint that he had been granted a medical exemption to grow facial hair, but the lieutenant’s rant continued until another supervisor stepped in. The officer said the April 23 episode was humiliating and left him feeling no longer “included or accepted in the LAPD.”

Shaving is painful, the officer said. He was diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, a skin condition that disproportionately affects Black men, causing blemishes and acne-like bumps that can scar or bleed.

The incident touched a nerve among some Black officers on the force, who described their own brushes with racial discrimination because of beards or the way they styled their hair. Some of those concerns resurfaced last month after a high-ranking police union official wrote a column accusing the department of lowering its standards on beards and allowing officers to have “Coolio-style hair,” referring to the late rapper who sported trademark twists.

Jamie McBride, a board member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, wrote that while making the rounds at police stations around the city during recent contract negotiations, he noticed numerous officers with beards or the “craziest hairstyles” that didn’t adhere to the department’s on-duty grooming standards.
One officer “looked like he was going to a Bob Marley concert,” with long braids “running down past his collar and then folded up, “McBride wrote.

The officer needed a “female hairband to keep his hair out of his face,” he wrote. McBride also noted the presence of a female captain whose hair sits “high on top of her head it looks more like a hat in search of a propeller,” in such a way that she couldn’t properly wear a department-issued hat.

The captain attends recruit graduation ceremonies and other department functions, McBride wrote, “so it is clear that Chief Moore and the entire command staff are well aware of this.”

“Wearing a beard while in uniform looks shoddy and unprofessional, and it is disrespectful of every LAPD officer who has and still does wear this uniform,” McBride wrote. He noted that some officers have medical or religious exemptions that allow beards, but said: “To be honest, I’m not buying it.”

“Sometimes when I shaved, the wool uniform would irritate my skin and cause ingrown hairs or a rash,” he wrote. “However, I would be too embarrassed to request a medical exemption because beards look like crap in uniform.”

McBride suggested that officers with beards may not be able to carry out certain tasks essential to the job, such as properly donning a gasmask. Those with sensitive skin, he wrote, should “perhaps buy a better razor.”
The piece was titled “Don’t Crown Me,” a reference to the CROWNAct, federal legislation proposed last year to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle.

The House bill was modeled after California legislation enacted in2019 that made the state the first in the nation to prohibit the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly Black people. This included bans on hairstyles such as Afros, braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks — or locs for short.

McBride claimed some officers are abusing the policy, but department brass has been “too scared to do anything about it. “Just the typical selective enforcement, I suppose,” he wrote in the column, which appeared in the November issue of the union’s Thin Blue Line magazine.

In interviews with The Times, numerous Black officers said they felt targeted by what they saw as dog-whistle language in McBride’s column about “Coolio” hairstyles. Some said that while the LAPD has a policy against hair discrimination, they still felt the scorn of fellow officers through dirty looks and comments. A few were told their appearance would prevent them from being promoted.

Those with PFB talked of facing the dilemma of having to choose between their health and shaving their beards to appease colleagues and higher-ups in an organization where conformity is deemed a necessity.
Others questioned his choice of language but agreed with McBride’s argument for the importance of keeping up appearances. The officers only agreed to speak with The Times on the condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation from the police union.

The Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., which represents the department’s Black officers, said the union leader’s words were divisive. “Fomenting divisiveness is easy; it is far harder to recognize the need for change and lead others in that direction,” the association’s president, Capt. Shannon Enox-White, said in the statement. “The Department continues to educate leadership at all levels on the law and how it impacts the communities we serve.”

Like other law enforcement agencies around the country, the LAPD has in recent years loosened its standards on cops’ hair, tattoos and other body art. In some ways, McBride’s commentary tapped into resentment inside the LAPD over what some see as the erosion of the professional, spit-and-polish image of the department dating back tothe days of Chief William J. Parker, who was a stickler for grooming.

Even as the department has become more diverse, the traditional look of a city cop — ironed LAPD blue uniforms, shined shoes and neat haircuts — has remained largely unchanged for decades. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that while he only skimmed McBride’s column, it was clear from what he read that the union leader’s views were “out of step” with changing social norms.

“I would ask that Jamie reflect upon the evolution of our societal standards and that he evolve as well,” Moore said in an interview. He also pointed to what he saw as the hypocrisy of McBride talking about officers’ appearances, when the union leader proudly displays sleeve tattoos off duty and has been known to sport a goatee in the past.

“I find it interesting that he would throw rocks at others,” the chiefs aid, noting that since McBride doesn’t regularly wear a uniform or appear in court, he doesn’t have to adhere to the same standards as other officers. Moore said he also “supports his criticism when officers don’t follow our requirements.”
But, the chief added: “I think his criticisms go beyond that. I think his criticisms went to disagree with the CROWN Act provisions, and that is where I think he’s out of step.”

McBride told The Times that his column had everything to do with upholding a certain standard of appearance, not race. He said he had received nothing but positive feedback, including from “active command staff [who] said that they agree with me but they can’t say anything because of their position.” “This isn’t picking on any one group, white, Black and Latino officers with beards,” he said. “We’re LAPD: We’re supposed to look sharp, we’re supposed to look processional.”

Moore recently updated the department’s policy on tattoos. Officers must now cover up body ink on their arms, hands, legs, neck and behind their ears. Under an administrative order, dated Nov. 29, all facial tattoos are banned, with the exception of “permanent make-up” such as eyeliner, lipliner and eyebrows that are tattooed on someone’s face. Officers with larger tattoos on their arms are required to wear long-sleeved uniforms, except those in undercover assignments.

The department offers exemptions for officers with beards from certain faith groups, such as Sikhs, whose religion expects devout members to maintain unshorn hair and beards. In recent years, several legal challenges have arisen against grooming standards seen as arbitrary and discriminatory. Last December, a federal appeals court granted a preliminary injunction allowing two Sikh men to immediately begin basic training with the U.S. Marine Corps without shaving their beards. The men had argued the Marines ’grooming policy violated their right to freedom of religion.

A series of high-profile incidents in recent years have thrust the politics of hair into the national conversation about race. In Alabama, a Black woman was fired for not straightening her hair. Gabby Douglas, the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around gymnastics title, faced criticism early in her career for not pulling her hair into a ponytail, and a young Black wrestler was asked to cut his Locs or face disqualification before a match.

While more organizations have loosened their grooming standards in recent years, many rules on workplace appearance are “based on a Eurocentric standard of beauty,” said Gail A. Dawson, a business professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Dawson said such policies are part of the dehumanizing legacy of chattel slavery, in which people with darker skin and kinkier hair were never allowed to work indoors.

Dawson, whose sister is a police officer in Philadelphia, acknowledged that some rules for law enforcement are based on safety; for instance, an officer’s overly long hair can turn into a liability during a struggle, she said. But other grooming standards are unrelated to job performance and place an especially unfair burden on Black women, in particular, who have to follow elaborate routines to tend to their curls, or turn to relaxers, weaves or wigs that are expensive and can damage their hair, she said.

Yoseph Dalia, a dermatology instructor at Harvard Medical School, said that despite the CROWN Act and other state laws, some of his patients of color tell him they feel stigmatized in their workplaces because of their hairstyle. Others report having their abilities being called into question. “What’s considered professional? Why is someone’s hairstyle considered professional or not professional and if we’re going to talk about acceptance of people?” said Dalia, who has written about PFB.

In law enforcement, police officers and recruits face pressure to alter their appearance, which is part of their identity, in order to fit in, he said. “So not only can they not get a gun, or keep a job or excel at, but they also have to deal with these kind of financial … to try to get in,” he said. “It’s kind of hypocritical to say and we love our law enforce mentor we love our military, but then also make it hard for them to serve.”

A legal battle in Texas over a Black student’s hairstyle has renewed calls for a national CROWN Act. Here is what that means

The family of a Black high school student who has been suspended for weeks over his locs hairstyle have sued Texas state leaders, requesting the governor take action to protect the 17-year-old from hair discrimination.

Black natural hair advocates say the legal battle has renewed focus on the history of hair discrimination in the US and the need to pass a national CROWN Act.

The CROWN Act and similar laws protect against race-based hair discrimination by making it illegal to deny employment and educational opportunities based on natural hair texture and protective hairstyles.

The legislation, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” (CROWN) has been championed by natural hair advocates who argue Black Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace and in schools because of their hair.

Although the language of each law differs across the states that draft them, CROWN Act laws generally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or culture, including Black hairstyles like locs, braids or Bantu knots.

These styles are known as “protective hairstyles” because they help maintain the health of the hair by tucking strands to prevent additional stress and breakage, which promotes hair to grow. The styles also protect the hair from the overuse of heat from styling tools such as flat irons.

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Weekly Checklist: It’s Time to Update Your Employee Appearance Policy

FP Weekly members receive a practical and cutting-edge checklist of issues to consider, action steps to take, and goals to accomplish to ensure you remain on the top of your game when it comes to workplace relations and employment law compliance. This week we are republishing a checklist of items to consider when revising your employee appearance policy and dress code – an especially timely topic given the news that the U.S. Senate has relaxed its traditional dress code.

Evolving Workplace Expectations and Standards

Pandemic prompted changes. Many workplaces have become more casual in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this movement. Employers and co-workers alike probably don’t mind when a cat, dog, or child occasionally makes an appearance in a Zoom call, and they accept that many employees on those calls are wearing sweatpants with their camera-ready dress shirt. Moreover, many employers that want workers to return to the office have offered a variety of incentives, including a relaxed dress code.

What does this mean for your appearance standards? These changes should motivate you to think about how to strike a balance between employee comfort and the standards of professionalism for your particular company culture and industry. Every workplace is different, but in general, you should consider the following questions:

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Will you create a general policy simply requiring employees to look professional and well-groomed? Or do you want to be more specific?

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Will you require customer-facing employees to dress more professionally or formally than those who only interact with co-workers — whether in person or on camera?

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Will you create a separate policy for Zoom meetings that may be more relaxed than your in-person appearance policy?

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Do you want to be more specific about what attire is unacceptable in the office or on Zoom? For example, are jeans and a t-shirt allowed? What about baseball caps, sleeveless shirts, or hooded sweatshirts? Just be sure to review such policies for compliance with the workplace laws discussed in more detail below.

Hairstyle equity. In addition to pandemic-related changes over the last few years, calls for social justice led many jurisdictions to pass laws combating workplace racial bias based on hairstyle. In fact, 19 states and many localities have passed a version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on natural or protective hairstyles. Natural hair has not been treated with chemicals that alter color or texture — such as bleach or straightener. Protective hairstyles — such as braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots — tuck the ends of the hair away to protect from sun, heat, and other damage.

Racial discrimination based on hairstyles is a part of everyday life for many Black adults, according to a study by the CROWN Coalition — which was founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Moreover, a 2019 Dove CROWN study found that Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than their co-workers.

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Race-based hair discrimination ban heads to Michigan governor

After passing the Michigan House Thursday, June 8, the Michigan CROWN Act is headed to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In a 100-7 vote, the House approved the legislation adding language into the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture and race-based hairstyles, like braids, dreadlocks, twists and afros. The bill passed the state Senate 35-5 last month.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, has long championed the issue, having previously introduced the CROWN Act as a member of the House in 2019 and 2020.

After Years of Advocacy in Dallas and Around Texas, the CROWN Act Becomes Law

On March 22, WFAA reporter Tashara Parker stood before eight members of the Texas House of Legislature’s State Affairs committee in Austin, her hair swinging in a long braid behind her back. She had waited almost 11 hours to speak. At the podium, she asked the legislators to imagine “walking into work carrying the weight of an identity that was not your own.” That their natural hair—be it straight or textured, braided, in locks (also known as dreadlocks), or flat-ironed—was deemed “unprofessional.”

The subject of Parker’s testimony, House Bill 567, would make such discrimination illegal.

Standing for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, House Bill 567 would prevent discrimination against someone based on their hairstyle or hair texture “commonly or historically associated with race.” The bill overwhelmingly passed the State House of Representatives 143-5 April 13, and in the State Senate 29-1 nearly a month later on May 12. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law over the weekend. It goes into effect on September 1.

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Media owners own too much of our culture. We need change.

In 2019, alongside our partners at Dove, the National Urban League, and Color of Change, Western Center became a founding member of the CROWN coalition to stop discrimination based on hair – specifically, to protect Black people’s right to wear their hair naturally. Since the CROWN Act passed in California, similar measures have passed across the country, and conversations about discrimination and representation have spread like wildfire. Every day people share examples of overcoming discrimination and taking pride in representation – embracing their true, whole selves. Putting an end to race-based discrimination is one step in the fight for equity in workplaces, schools, and on our screens, and representation is another. There is also a deeper well to look to as we cleanse the groundwater of this country’s white supremacy – looking at who owns what.

Diversity in media is about more than representation on screen – it’s also about who has the power to decide what content is put in front of audiences and who gets to influence culture.  Media is culture, and culture shows our values. While we’ve seen a push for more diversity and representation on screen, not enough has been done to diversify media ownership.

Like other highly monopolized industries, mergers and acquisitions between media companies are frequent. As it stands, there are six major media companies and five major tech companies dominating the media landscape, meaning a relatively small number of people control film production, television, news, and other media. Through consolidations, large companies continue to set the tone for media discourse, ethics, and actions over smaller entities that try to compete or are eventually absorbed. That is why in 2022 so many people still are not adequately seen, heard, or represented in our content.

Everyone has a story, but when the same kind of stories with the same kind of characters continue to be uplifted over others, it’s a signal to the culture about who is important and relatable. But it is a faulty signal – the small, homogenous group of media owners who make decisions about “what audiences want to see” have too limited a perspective to really know. Even when project (Black Panther) after project (anything created by Shonda Rhimes) after project (Insecure) proves old business models wrong, the same people continue to hold the power to greenlight or cancel projects, and storytelling is stifled.

Ten years ago, writer and producer Issa Rae was told she needed a white character for her projects to be successful and for audiences to care. That sentiment, which still exists, is a product of the explicitly racist history of American media, founded by the same white supremacy as the rest of the country. But ever the trailblazer, Issa expanded the network of creators in Hollywood through her show, and continues to do so – an example of Toni Morrison’s wisdom: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

Issa stands on the shoulders of trailblazing creator/ owners like Oprah Winfrey, Ava Duvernay, Reese Witherspoon, and Tyler Perry, all of whom create countless opportunities for talented people from diverse backgrounds. But for every new model for content production and distribution, there is a legacy media brand holding back bourgeoning creators. And while companies like Netflix offer a welcome disruption for media production and distribution, when we look at ownership, it is clear there’s a long way to go.

It’s not just the media industry that needs a shift in ownership, in fact, the idea of ownership anywhere in the U.S. is complicated by its history of slavery. The racial dynamics of ownership are particularly stark in sports, where discussions about the need for change happen, but ownership largely stays the same. Of course, sports connect right back to media, and a small group of people unwilling to give up profitable reins to change racist systems.

There is a silver lining – the beautiful thing about culture is that it can be shaped into anything we want, and in that way, creators have the freedom to construct whatever narratives they want. However, as things stand, most don’t have the backing to reach a mass audience, so they’re stuck hoping someone with power will “take a chance” and see the value in their stories.

The media industry is notoriously hard to break into and extremely susceptible to “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” But media consumers should be able to find relatable content providing a true reflection of what modern society looks like. With that goal in mind, the evolution of the media landscape must include more open doors for diversity in media ownership so more diverse voices are supported, greenlit, and shared.