California becomes first US state to ban discrimination over natural hairstyles

The law prohibits employers and schools from enforcing rules against styles that would unfairly target black people

California became the first state in the US to ban discrimination over natural hair on Wednesday.

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    Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace (Crown) Act into law, prohibiting employers and schools from enforcing rules against hairstyles including afros, braids, twists, and locks. Workplace policies that prohibit such styles have serious economic and health consequences, especially for black individuals, the bill said.

    In a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a persons race, and whether they were a second-class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race, the bill said. Therefore, hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.

    Instances of people of color facing discrimination in school and the workplace over their hair have gained visibility in recent years, as a movement among black women to wear natural styles has grown.

    In 2013, BP fired a top executive for wearing what one colleague called ethnic hairstyles including twists, braids, and cornrows. In 2018, an Alabama woman sued after a company required her to cut her locks to get a job. Also that year, a woman said her 14-year-old son was sent home from his school in Fresno, California, because of the way his head was shaved. And in December, a white referee sparked outrage by requiring a black student to cut his dreadlocks off before a wrestling match.

    The bill passed in California will also provide protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code to protect people of color beyond the workplace. It was backed by a national alliance compromised of the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change, and Dove.

    Holly J Mitchell, the state senator who introduced the bill, told colleagues: 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.

    Members, 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.


     

    Other jurisdictions have taken measures to prevent discrimination based on hair in recent years. The US army revised regulations to allow black soldiers to wear natural hairstyles in 2017. In February 2019, the city of New York banned restrictions on natural hair and hairstyles.

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