College student Destiny Tompkins says she is still in shock after her white manager at Banana Republic in White Plains, N.Y., told her that her box braids were too “urban” for the retailer.
The incident occurred last Wednesday. Tompkins posted on Facebook that when she went to work at Banana Republic’s Westchester Mall location, a white woman who was district manager came to the store. Tompkins was then asked to go speak to her manager who she calls Mike, who is white.
“I came in and he questioned me about the dress code and immediately I thought there was something wrong with my outfit, but he sat me down and questioned my hair instead,” Tompkins said. “He told me that my braids were not Banana Republic appropriate and that they were too ‘urban’ and ‘unkempt’ for their image. He said that if I didn’t take them out then he couldn’t schedule me for shifts until I did.”
She went on to say that she tried to explain to the manager that her hair was in a “protective style.” The manager replied by recommending she use shea butter.
“I have never been so humiliated and degraded in my life by a white person. In that moment, I felt so uncomfortable and overwhelmed that I didn’t even finish my work shift and ended up leaving,” she said.
Various pictures on her Facebook page show Tompkins sporting all sorts of natural hairstyles from braids, pressed and blown out. Her initial Facebook post about the incident has been shared more than 56,000 times.
“I was at a loss for words,” she said in an interview. “I felt angry. I felt sad, I felt overwhelmed. I felt really unsafe in that environment. It’s like you’re telling me I’m too Black to work here.”
In response, Gap Inc., which also owns Old Navy Gap Stores, Intermix and Athleta, released a statement saying that the manager in question had been fired.
“This week, one of our store managers questioned an African-American employee’s braided hair style,” said Banana Republic representative Sheikina Liverpool. “Our team began an immediate investigation, and the manager involved was promptly removed from the store. Today we concluded the investigation and can confirm that the manager has been terminated from the company. Banana Republic has zero tolerance for discrimination.”
The situation has reignited the conversation about Black women and hair in the workplace. A 2016 study released by the Perception Institute found that Black women with natural hair experience bias in the workplace.
The study confirmed that Black women who prefer to wear their hair natural “experience more anxiety surrounding hair issues than their white female counterparts, and often feel more pressure to straighten their hair for work.”
Fortunately, however, other studies and a cursory look around any major city indicates that natural hairstyles, from locks, to braid-outs, to Afros, are gaining in popularity.