Headline after headline, across continents and ages, we’ve read endless stories of Black people losing their jobs or getting suspended from school because their natural hair went against some guideline.
Just a few months ago, social media was in an uproar when video of Andrew Johnson, a high school wrestler who was forced to have his locs cut off or forfeit his match, surfaced online. The anger and frustration of seeing a youth’s hair shorn off publicly was felt by many and spurred an investigation into the matter.
Now, months later, California and New York are leading the fight against hair discrimination by passing measures that establish ones hair as inherent to one’s race or cultural identity making it protected under human rights laws.
Last week, California passed the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) which bans discrimination against employees and students based off their hairstyle. The measure, which expands on past efforts that protect unaltered Afro hairstyles, includes protections against discrimination based on traits historically associated with race such as hair texture and protective hairstyles and prevents the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately impacts people of color. The bill was presented by Senator Holly J. Mitchell
“Many Black employees, including your staff, members, will tell you if given the chance that the struggle to maintain what society has deemed a ‘professional image’ while protecting the health and integrity of their hair remains a defining and paradoxical struggle in their work experience, not usually shared by their non-Black peers…it is 2019. Any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a position, not because of my capabilities or experience but because of my hair, is long overdue for reform.” Senator Mitchell said before the Senate vote.
This new legislation follows the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ guidelines released back in February. The law protects the right of New Yorkers to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” The protections extends across employers, housing providers, public accommodations.
New Yorkers who have been fired, demoted, threatened, or harassed now have a legal defense. Violators can be fined up to $250,000 which doesn’t include damages.
To date, there are no legal protections in place against hair discrimination in federal court.
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