"Dreadlock Discrimination" Triggers Lawsuit
By Gerri Elder
On August 18, 2006 Kimberley Hines was hanging out with friends in Virginia Beach when the group decided to go dancing at Kokoamos Island Bar and Grill. They showed their identification at the door, but when Hines tried to enter the bar she was stopped by a security guard.
She wanted to know why she wasn't allowed to go inside and was told that the club's dress code did not allow braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks. The security guard told her that the owner did not want hip-hoppers in his mainstream establishment.
Hines has worn her hair in dreadlocks since 2003. She says of her hairstyle, "I wanted a natural hairstyle. I've always admired the hairstyle and never had the courage to do it." She adds that her choice of hairstyle had never been an issue until her night out at Kokoamos.
Hines says, "You cannot categorize someone by their hair or their clothing. I am the furthest from hip-hop you could ever meet." She says that the CD collection in her car includes pop singer Avril Lavigne, who is a favorite of her 6-year-old daughter, Akira.
But really, it shouldn't matter if she listens to hip-hop music or not, should it? The club's policy against certain hairstyles and images may be a thinly disguised attempt to racially discriminate against African American people, but what about the growing population of young white people who have dreads, braids and hip-hop inspired attire?
Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are now representing Hines and another African American who was also denied entry to the club two months earlier.
The U.S. Justice Department has joined the ACLU in filing a lawsuit alleging that the owner of Kokoamos, Barry Davis, discriminates against black people by banning patrons who wear braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks. The same policy against specific hairstyles was voluntarily dropped last year by Big Daddy's nightclub in Richmond's Shockoe Slip.
Hines is a 32-year old insurance claims adjuster. She says that as the daughter of a retired Navy captain, she grew up being exposed to different people and places. She says in her life, the color of a person's skin has never mattered. She believed that she was living Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, but being denied entry to the club destroyed her belief in equality for all people.
Hines's case, sadly enough, does not seem to be an isolated incident. In addition to the other person in the ACLU lawsuit who was denied entry to the dance club, two other women in Virginia say they've had problems with employment because of their choice of hairstyle.
Last spring, Donna Tate-Allison and Juanita Hudson, who worked as corrections officers at a Richmond County prison, were threatened with losing their jobs because of their hairstyles. Tate-Allison wears her hair in dreadlocks. She was reportedly fired, rehired and placed in a non-uniform job. Hudson is still employed at the prison, but says she is unable to wear her braids because of her job.
Kimberley Hines continues to deal with the aftermath of the incident at the nightclub. She was humiliated and her feelings were deeply hurt by the public rejection. She even considered cutting her hair because of the incident, but decided against it.
She says that the incident has changed her, but that she is working hard to regain the sense of security and equality she had before being racially discriminated against at Kokoamos.