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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

July 22, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: California bans hair-based racial discrimination

The California Senate passed a bill that would ban schools, workplaces and other public institutions from discriminating against traditionally ethnic hairstyles April 22. The Senate passed the bill in a 37–0 vote April 22 and the bill will now be moving on to the California Assembly.

The bill is also known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act), and it states that many dress codes are based on Eurocentric beauty standards. According to the bill, as a result, black Americans are disproportionately deterred from or punished in schools and workplaces.

“Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group,” the bill states.

The bill, SB 188, also updated the definition of race in California’s legislation so that it includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The discrimination against traditionally black hairstyles has become a heavily publicized and politicized issue in recent years. It particularly began garnering attention when an Alabama company denied a black woman a job for refusing to remove her dreadlocks in 2013, in response to which the woman filed a lawsuit. A federal appeals court sided with the company in 2016, deeming hair as not an unchangeable characteristic of one’s race, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2018.

Since the lawsuit, many instances of schools discriminating against black students’ hair, black people being denied job opportunities and other instances of hair-based discrimination have been a source of public outcry. Entire news outlets have dedicated web pages and extensive reporting on the issue, like The Root’s Hair Discrimination page.

Other cities have also recently begun implementing anti-discrimination policies protecting traditionally black hairstyles. In February, the New York City Commission on Human Rights passed a set of guidelines deeming any discrimination against hairstyles in schools, workplaces or public spaces as racial discrimination.

Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Holly J. Mitchell introduced the bill. In her speech prior to the vote, she said the bill will encourage schools and workplaces to create inclusive, diversified dress codes. She also said that dress codes based in Eurocentric ideals have a long history of causing African Americans to undergo difficult treatments to assimilate to those beauty standards and that a law preventing this practice is long overdue.

“I believe that any law policy or practice that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a profession — not because of my capacity or my capabilities or my experiences but because of my hairstyle choice — is long overdue for reform,” Mitchell said.

The passing of the bill has been met with an outpour of support from communities and organizations affiliated with the movement for the acceptance of traditionally black hairstyles.

Mane Moves Media, a media organization dedicated to promoting and advocating for natural hair, thanked Mitchell for her work in developing the bill in a statement made via Twitter.

“We hope this is the beginning of the end to racial discrimination based on hair in this country and around the world,” the tweet said. “Thank you for your hard work on getting the Crown Act passe[d]!”

The Purpose Youth Foundation, an organization that mentors teenage girls, also thanked Mitchell via Twitter for the bill because of how many of its members have experienced discrimination against their hair in the past.

“Thank you Senator Mitchell for introducing SB 188,” the tweet said. “You don’t know how many times me and my colleagues struggled with the issue in the workplace and when going on interviews!”

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke