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Cities And States Across The Country Take On Hair Discrimination

Black Woman With Natural Hair

If you have naturally textured or curly hair, chances are good you’ve had to make some emotionally charged decisions about your mane. Whether deciding if your natural hair is appropriate for a job interview or attempting to tame your mane before a first date, women with textured hair—particularly those of color—have been told for years that their natural hair is not good enough. While the way you style your hair may seem like a simple decision, it can mean many distressing life-changing consequences for women of color.

In February of 2019, New York City became the first city in the country to make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their hair or hairstyle, whether at work, school or in public spaces. The New York City Commission on Human Rights released guidelines that made it clear that targeting people because of their hair is considered racial discrimination. While the guidelines apply to anyone in New York City no matter your hair type or texture, the Commission on Human Rights specifically mentioned protections for “natural hair” and “hairstyles” such as locs, bantu knots, braids, twists, and afros.

While protections for hair may not seem life-changing for most, this was an absolutely landmark decision. At the time, there were no protections for hair anywhere else in the country—meaning a potential employer was within their rights to dismiss someone if their hairstyle wasn’t to their liking. Think of all of the passed over promotions, countless jobs lost, and children sent home from school solely because of the texture or style of their hair.

New York City may have got the ball rolling but it didn’t take long for other cities and states to follow suit. In the summer of 2019, the state of California became the first state in the country to pass anti hair discrimination legislation after signing The CROWN Act into law, banning racial discrimination against people wearing natural hairstyles. The CROWN Act—an acronym that stands for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”—bans schools and employers from enforcing grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color.

After a video of 16-year-old Andrew Johnson, a bi-racial student with dreadlocks on the wrestling team at Buena Regional High School, being forced to cut his hair in order to compete in a wrestling match went viral at the end of 2019, New Jersey became the second state to enact an anti hair discrimination law. Unlike the bills passed in New York and California, the New Jersey measure is actually an amendment to the Law Against Discrimination so that the term “race” includes traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and styles. As textured hair and the realities of hair discrimination continue to dominate and shape culture—snagging prestigious awards and much-coveted covers of magazines—more and more cities, counties, and states are following in the footsteps of New York City, California, and New Jersey. Most recently, lawmakers in Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, and Illinois, have proposed enacting CROWN Acts of their own, to provide much-needed protections to their constituents.

These guidelines are a great first step, but there needs to be a cultural shift to create true texture equality. That starts with everyone uplifting each other and their chosen hairstyles—no matter the texture, type, color, or length.

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