At Six Flags, the Don'ts of Dos
Saturday, June 17, 2006
It's right there, under "Extreme Hairstyles," in the 2006 seasonal handbook for Six Flags America employees: no dreadlocks, tails, partially shaved heads "or any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming."
Braids "must be in neat, even rows and without beads or other ornaments," the amusement park handbook advises.
That prompted Tim Bivins, 18, who has worked at Six Flags America in Largo for two years, to cut several inches off his hair this spring and pay $50 to have it braided into cornrows. Not good enough, he was told. Cut the braids shorter or go home.
Shannon Boyd, 17, bought a wig to cover the locks she sports under her Tweety Bird costume. Not appropriate, she was told, because the wig wasn't her natural hair color.
Jonathan DeLeon, who had been growing his fanny-length hair since he was 7, was hired in March to portray Sylvester and Daffy Duck. A few weeks later, however, he was told that he would have to cut his three-foot-plus-long braids. His mother whacked off more than two feet, but it wasn't enough, park officials said.
"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," said DeLeon, 17, of Largo. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people. I had already cut it a lot, so I just left."
Femi Manners and her 16-year-old son, Shakir, agreed that he would not change his hair: short cornrows with a small design braided in. Instead, she contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which is investigating complaints from more than a dozen black employees of Six Flags America.
The complaint is the latest in recent years alleging that private companies or government agencies are violating civil rights with restrictions on ethnic and Africa-inspired hairstyles and beards.
"This is culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination," said King Downing, coordinator of the ACLU's national campaign against racial profiling. "The question is, how long do we have to keep going around and around with this when it comes to people of African descent and the natural style of the hair that they wear?"
In the 1980s, a Marriott reservations clerk in downtown Washington sued successfully to keep her cornrows. Five years ago, District firefighters sought to wear longer hair or beards for religious reasons. Now, the fight has come to Prince George's, a predominantly black, middle-class county where many people consider such hairstyles a point of ethnic pride and few consider them "extreme."
"Many of the people who go to Six Flags have locks and twists and Afros," said Demetrius Hall, 16, of Suitland, a Muslim who said he will not cut his hair, for religious reasons. "Black people are not offended by those hairstyles."
Wendy Goldberg, national spokeswoman for Six Flags, said the policy has been in place for years. "I understand they don't want to conform, that this is a matter of heritage and pride," she said. "But you can apply the question of heritage and culture and not conforming to piercing, shaved heads and tattoos."