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Black job applicant turned down because of braids: ignorant or racist?

Simone Powderly is a beauty blogger whose online tutorials attract thousands of viewers. The perfect candidate, then, to work on a department store makeup counter. Or so you’d think.

South Londoner Simone, 25, applied through the Elite Associates agency for a job working at various department stores. She was surprised when the agency came back to her with a request: could she take her braids out? Apparently the companies they represent “go for a more natural look” to suit their “high end products.”

But what could be more natural for Black hair than braids?

The BBC spoke to the editor of Black Beauty and Hair, Irene Shelley, who expressed concern over the department stores’ response to Simone’s hair. “It’s very different wearing a nose ring to wearing braids,” Shelley said, when asked whether braids were simply an extreme look, like facial piercings or a mohican. [With a nose ring or a mohican] you’re making a style statement. Afro hair is what grows out of your head. People are saying your hair texture isn’t good enough, you have to do something about it before we take you on.”

A few weeks ago, E!’s Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic caused a major fuss when she made offensive comments about Zendaya Coleman’s dreadlocks at the Oscars. In response Coleman posted a statement on her Instagram page, highlighting the “harsh criticism of African American hair in society” due to “ignorant people who choose to judge others on the curl of their hair.”

Perhaps Elite Associates should circulate Coleman’s statement among its clients to ensure that they think twice before rejecting an otherwise qualified job applicant because she wears her hair in braids. Whether they reacted to Simone’s hair out of ignorance or racism, it’s not good enough.

Elite Associates is investigating the matter and said diversity is “at the core of its business.”

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