Joy Foster is the owner of one of the very few Black salons in Albuquerque. InJoy U Salon specializes in protective styles—sew-ins, braids, dreadlocks, dreadlock extensions—and is very adamant about caring for natural “ethnic” hair, without chemical relaxers. “If the style is presentable and neat it should be acceptable to be worn in both the school and workplace setting.” Foster talked to The Paper. about her encounters with clients who were often devastated after years of trying to get their hair to look as much as possible like their non-Black colleagues. Some went bald, experienced heavy breakage, alopecia, became depressed and anxious from the chemical treatments necessary to straighten “ethnic” hair. Foster believes that corporate America does not want to display African ethnicity in the workplace through natural hair. Foster also claims that one of her clients was recently told to remove her long braids and straighten her hair. She says that the majority of her clients “rock ethnic hairstyles, particularly braids, because they work for themselves and run their own companies.”
Creating Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, otherwise known as the CROWN Act, was created in 2019 by the Unilever-owned toiletries company Dove and the CROWN Coalition, in partnership with then State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California. It was designed to protect against discrimination in the workplace and public schools based on racial hair texture and styles that include braids, locks, twists and knots. In 2021 Albuquerque became the ninth city among 13 to pass the CROWN Act. As The Paper. reported, New Mexico passed its own CROWN Act sponsored by former Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton.
As museums begin to reopen, you need not look far to see a true example of an individual who brings both art and culture together to create bold statements. Coinciding with the message behind the CROWN Act is an outstanding display at the New Mexico Holocaust Museum and Gellert Center for Education. There you will find one of our very own Albuquerque residents, Hiddekel Sara Burks, doing live demonstrations of textile braiding. Burks intends to set a new Guinness World Record for "the longest handmade textile braid" through her featured display titled “Art and History of Braiding.'' Instead of the originally intended black color choice, Burks uses several colors to include in her braids to add to the versatility and poignant nature of the culturally significant and historical art project. The record will be broken when she hits 6,000 feet.
Even with businesses and museums working to ease discrimination, our city has a long way to go. In December 2019 a federal lawsuit was filed when an Albuquerque girl from Cleveland Middle School alleged that she encountered racial discrimination for having purple highlights in her hair. She was subsequently disciplined for this action. The civil rights complaint goes on further to discuss a portrayal of bias against Black students. She says other girls who were not African American were allowed to wear color streaks in their hair.
Embracing Black hair is a part of embracing Black culture. Black hair is also art and identity for the Black community and needs to be recognized as such.
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