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Right to wear braids

John Sealy

Right to wear braids

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WHAT GOES around comes around.

And how people wear their hair is always a matter that is ripe for heated debate.

It was almost 30 years ago that 28-year-old Ingrid Quarless asserted her right to sport a braided hairstyle that conflicted with the preference of her then boss Alfred Taylor, general manager of the then Grand Bay Beach Resort at Aquatic Gap, St Michael.

What transpired at the hotel on that Saturday mid-morning of November 23, 1986, not only ignited islandwide response but also landed before the courts of Barbados in a wrongful dismissal case.

The English-born Quarless was the hotel’s social hostess from February 10, 1986, to November 21 the same year, when she claimed she was dismissed for having her hair in braids.

The case held the attention of many Barbadians, who felt that asking a black woman to get rid of her braids was an affront to all people of African origin.

Quarless was awarded $2 000 for winning the wrongful dismissal case.

“I feel justified. My dignity and pride have been restored. I now feel good about myself again, about Barbados and about everything,” she told WEEKEND NATION of May 26, 1989, after winning her case.

The impasse started when Quarless got two verbal notices from the activities director informing her that she would have to leave the property if she did not comply with an order to undo the braids. She said she was approached by the general manager in the lobby of the hotel and asked if she had got the message about her hair.

She said she replied, “Yes” but also indicated that she did not understand and wanted to know the reason why she must undo her braids.

Quarless told the SUNDAY SUN of November 23, 1986, that Taylor said he was the owner of the hotel and what he said went. And if she did not take out the braids she would have to leave the hotel.

The demure Quarless stood her ground, saying that she was a professional woman and felt some proper notification was in order.  

Her concern was: “How can I be fired for having braids? Is there a rule in Barbados against having braids? I am a professional woman,” she pleaded.

She even drew on the popular movie Colour Purple as impetus for her stand, which was about the rights of the black woman.

Taylor would have none of that.

When a SUNDAY SUN team landed at the hotel to get the story, Taylor trumpeted: “Complaints were received from members of the staff – and also guests – on the hairstyle of Miss Quarless. I spoke to her department head, Kim Edghill, that she [Quarless] could not continue working here if her hair was in such a condition.”

Taylor also repeated the story to the Press that he had approached Quarless earlier and asked her if she got the message regarding her braids and the consequences of not removing them.

But what seemed to anger Taylor even more is that “she proceeded to walk into a room she is not entitled to go into because I had told her leave the hotel . . . . She downright refused to leave the premises when the two owners had told her”.

Taylor was not done with Quarless that Saturday morning. He summoned the law.

“Am I misbehaving myself? I am just here to have a drink with my friends,” responded Quarless in quiet tone to the officer while in company of Richard Cox, executive manager of Grand Bay, discussing the hairstyle.

The embattled Quarless was not standing alone.

Guests Virginia and Michael Byford expressed surprise at how Quarless was being dealt with and frowned on the way the situation was being handled.

“What management feels is their business, but we don’t find it [braids] offensive.”

The Jaycettes and the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Barbados (BPWC) did not like what they heard either.

“It sounds very discriminatory against women and more so against black women,” said then president of the Jaycettes, Donna Campbell.

Dawn Morgan, president of BPWC, described the incident as “puzzling” and suggested that “there must be more in the mortar than the pestle”.

Quarless also had the support of Adonijah in his column The Hot Line.

“Someone needs to tell Alfred Taylor that this is 1986 and not 1786. The attitude that he displayed in his handling of  the dismissal of the sister who worked at his establishment shows us all that ignorance is alive and flourishing in this island.”

But Taylor had stuck to his position, saying that he did not dismiss Quarless for wearing braids but told the Press “when I call to tell you the vendors troubling my people on the beach, you don’t come, but some little incident which has no ground you run up here because you want to make a big scene  . . . .  No, no, I can tell you that. You all don’t rice me. This is Alfred Taylor. I can say what the hell I want . . .”.

Magistrate Valton Bend, who presided over the matter in the District “A” Court, thought differently.

While advising the management of the hotel to adjust to changing times and trends, he ruled that Quarless should have the personal freedom to wear her hair in the style she wanted.

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