Is Six Flags Racist Against Dreadlocks?
Jun 19 2012
It was a hot day during the first week of June when Markeese Warner showed up for her interview at the Six Flags in Mitchellville, Maryland. She’d driven all the way from her home in Blandensburg, which is about a 30-minute drive, and managed to be there 15 minutes early looking very nice. She wore no makeup, just a little eyeliner and she had her long dreadlocks, which reach the small of her back, tied up neatly in a ponytail. She wore a demure one-piece black dress that stopped at her knee and some cute pink flats. Like always, the Penn State senior engineering student who’s active in her school’s student government and has held several internships, strove to present herself in a professional light even though the interview was just for a food service job she was planning to use to score some extra cash over summer break. While waiting in a humdrum classroom-like area, she thought optimistically that maybe she could make some professional connections at the amusement park and come back after she graduated as an engineer to contribute to the safety of the rides and roller coasters. She’d been studying the acceleration and deceleration of coasters in class and found it fascinating. Wouldn’t it be nice to work at Six Flags? A place she’d spent countless summer days with her cousins running from ride to ride, brandishing their coveted season passes.
Unfortunately, for Markeese, Six Flags has a strict and unwavering policy against “extreme hair,” which is a category that they ignorantly include all locks in despite the reality that dreads come in many different styles and conditions like any other hairstyle—some incredibly neat and clean, and others not so much. And so, this burgeoning engineer was dismissed from the interview with the cold scripted comment that, “We won’t be able to continue with this interviewing process. However, we encourage you to apply again.” Apply again? For what? To be denied once more by a racially insensitive policy that considers all instances of a hairstyle worn by successful business people, Pulitzer Prize winners, and college professors as unprofessional?
Markeese is certainly not the first black person to be dismissed from Maryland’s Six Flags for having locks. In 2010, two women were denied employment, for which the park recieved the reproach of the ACLU. The story was picked up by ABC News and gained some national attention, but not like this time around. Through social media, Markeese has managed to drum up a substantial amount of support in opposition to this law, which clearly targets blacks, who are the predominant wearers of locks and make up over 90 percent of the population surrounding the park. Markeese was able to raise people’s awareness through a humble petition on Change.org on June 5 that has already garnered 22,000 signatures.
Impressed by how quickly Markeese has managed to galvanize support around this cause, I gave her a call to see how the engineering student turned activist feels about becoming the face of a movement in Maryland.
VICE: First off, why Six Flags? It seems like a shitty place to work, even just for the summer.
Markeese Warner: I hadn’t landed an internship yet. Also, I wanted to work somewhere that would give me skills I could use in the next school year. Engineers are assumed to be very introverted; I thought working at an amusement park might give me the chance to prove otherwise.
That makes sense. Did you know about their policy before you showed up for the interview?
I applied online. A friend of mine referred me because they are pretty good with hiring people over the summer. A week later I received a call from a representative. He went over all the policies and procedures.
Did he tell you that they hate dreadheads?
Well, he eventually said that Six Flags has a tough policy about extreme hairstyles such as unnatural coloring, Mohawks, and dreadlocks. He asked me if I had any objections about that. I told him, “I do have an objection, because I have locks in my hair.” He was kind of stunned for a minute. He asked me if I’d like to continue with the interview process and I told him, “Yes. I would.” Then he told me to come in the next day for an interview.
So you thought you would be cool?
Yeah, I went to the interview and this woman who interviewed me—she was black with a frizzy, natural hairstyle herself—and asked if I was aware of their hair policy. I said, “Yes. I am aware.” Then she asked, “Would you be willing to comply with our policy?” I asked her, “Would complying with the policy mean I would have to cut my hair to work here?” She told me, “I can’t tell you what to do with your hair. But to be hired there is a contract you have to sign that says that you are willing to comply with the policy.” So, I told her “I guess I’m not willing to comply with the policy.”
Well, what’s wrong with that? Every place has a dress code. Even at my job, which is filled with degenerates, there are things you can’t wear to work.
The difference is they are saying you can’t have dreadlocks at all. I understand why some people have a negative connotation of locks, but everyone’s hair is not like that. I’ve worked plenty of jobs and I’ve always had natural hair. This interview was for a food service job and I’ve worked food service jobs before. It's understandable if they said, “Hey, pull it back or put a hat on so hair won’t fall into the food,” but as it stands this policy shows complete ignorance and no cultural sensitivity.
How do you take care of your dreadlocks?
I wash my hair every two weeks like I’m supposed to. I re-twist the roots constantly and make sure they’re tight so you can see my scalp. I often put them it in a ponytail, as I had it at my interview. And I style my hair. I curl my hair. I just take really good care of my hair.
Will you ever go back to Six Flags?
No. Never. I’ll go out of my way to go to another amusement park or just wait until the carnival comes around.
Since you couldn’t get the job at Six Flags, what’s the next move for a summer gig?
I’m working on getting an internship at Con-Edison right now. I just put in the application and cover letter yesterday.
Obviously you’re on to bigger and better things than flipping burgers at their shitty park. Why make such a big deal about this? It’s kind of small potatoes when you’re going to be making engineer money soon.
In the area where I’m from you have a lot of people—predominantly black people—with locks in their hair. I feel like this policy is preventing them, especially the youth, from getting jobs. Thank God I’m not in the position where I have to take care of my family. But there are other people around my age who have those kinds of responsibilities. This is not just for me. I’m not trying to sue anybody. I don’t want to get money. My primary focus is to make a difference and get Six Flags to change its rules so everyone has an opportunity.
Do you think this policy is explicitly racist?
I think this policy is discriminating. And I think it does enable racial profiling. But it’s not blatantly racist because anybody can have dreadlocks. And to be truthful, the person who made this policy could easily be a black person. The way I look at it, is that in practice it affects predominantly black people because the majority of people with dreadlocks are black. And it is unfair because unlike hair coloring or some of the other things, dreads are a natural hairstyle. They present the true texture of my hair.
Yeah, it's funny that Six Flags seems to think just wearing your pretty, natural locks is on par with throwing a bunch of chemicals onto your head so your hair has the texture of a white person. If you had your own engineering company, would you have a dress code?
Of course, it would be business casual. Employees could have different hairstyles as long as they were well maintained.
Could I work for you with a Mohawk?
Yeah, you could have a little one.
What if it was like 12 inches tall and pink?
That might be a little extreme.
Different strokes. Thanks, Markeese.
You can sign Markeese's petition at Change.org.
After hearing Markeese’s story, we managed to get on the phone with a representative from Six Flags—the amusement park’s communications manager Havela Ross. Regardless of what question I asked Mrs. Ross, she responded by reciting the company’s written policy towards extreme hair to me in various octaves, accents, and twangs. I’ll spare you the majority of the conversation, which is really just me beating my head against the wall of corporate communication management for 20 minutes, and skip to some tell-tale exchanges:
VICE: As a person who lives in America, what would you say is the predominant race that wears dreads?
Havilah Ross: I’m sure we all know the answer to that question.
OK. And what would be the predominant race that has tattoos, colored hair, or mohawks—which are the only other things specified in the extreme hair policy?
I think you could put those across the board.
Right. It’s interesting that Six Flag’s policy would pinpoint one hairstyle that is particular to one racial demographic and no other. Is there even a need to specifically say “dreadlocks"? Couldn’t Six Flags just evaluate the hair on a case by case basis the same way they do other hairstyles? I’m sure there are other hairstyles that aren’t enumerated in the policy that Six Flags would consider extreme and not appropriate for an employee to have.
You’re asking me to make a statement for the company based on something that it could be or couldn’t be. I would need to have the case in hand in order to make that kind of statement.
Well, what makes dreads extreme in the first place?
This is what our corporate guidelines are. [Recites the corporate guidelines] I’ve given you the statements from the company. We’re a private company. We have a very conservative dress code. We are equal opportunity employers. We don’t discriminate based on gender, age, or race. I’m not sure what else we need to talk about. As far as this girl goes, I can’t really comment on her. It’s not based on anything other than we like to ensure our members appear clean and neat.
And Markeese is clearly not clean or neat?!? Thanks.
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