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california may ban natural hair discrimination

July 2, 2019
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Natural hair discrimination in the workplace is legal in 50 states. What that means is that certain types of hairstyles and textures—usually worn by people of African descent— can be considered “unprofessional” or undesirable in the workplace. Over time, this has meant the forced assimilation of Black folks who, in order to work in certain fields and offices, have to conform to white acceptability when it comes to hair. To quote Paul Mooney, “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.” And in order to make the white people who sign their paychecks happy, Black people, especially those in corporate America, find themselves relaxing their hair, or wearing weaves and wigs to appeal to a European beauty standard. This has even trickled down to our schools, where countless students continue to be punished for rocking natural hair, locs, braids, and other protective styles. And while some cities have pushed for anti-discrimination measures that would tie hair to racial discrimination, no state has gone as far as California is poised to go.

The Golden State’s State Assembly voted unanimously last week to pass such a measure. Known as the Crown Act—a sweet acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” the measure is meant to be “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” It was introduced by  Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.

“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority,” the bill says.

The race-neutral wording is meant to protect a wide-ranging, intersectional group of people from racist grooming mandates in schools and workplaces. The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom.

“The sheer volume of women and men and parents of students who have been sent home because someone deems their braids, twists or locks were inappropriate for workplace settings, the sheer volume of people, suggests this clearly is a law whose time has come,” Mitchell said.