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Davis, California

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Calif. Assembly: Protect black hairstyles from discrimination

Persistent discrimination in workplace, schools proves need for bill

The California State Senate, in a commendable bipartisan vote on Monday, April 22, unanimously approved Senate Bill 188, a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on hairstyle.

The C.R.O.W.N. Act, short for “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair,” is sponsored by Senator Holly Mitchell, CA-30, who is African American herself. The bill is designed to help prevent workplaces and K-12 schools from being biased against those with traditionally black hairstyles.

“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,” Mitchell said before the Senate voted on her bill. “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.”

What Mitchell said is old news to black people all over the country who face discrimination based on their hairstyles — hairstyles like braids, twists and locks that SB 188 will specifically protect. But at the same time as California is making this radical step, recent instances of prejudice against black hair remind us why laws like this are so necessary.

Horrific moments are shared across the internet, like a video from December of 2018 of a black wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to cut his hair while standing on the mat, else he be made to forfeit his match. A white sports reporter covering the match shared a video of the event on Twitter, calling the wrestler the “epitome of a team player.” The reporter later apologized, saying he “missed the bigger picture.”

More recently in April, a high school in Houston, Tex. implemented a dress code not for students, but for parents or anyone else entering the building. This dress code banned satin caps and bonnets, which, according to the New York Times, “are often worn by black women to protect their hair.”

“We are preparing your child for a prosperous future,” wrote James Madison High School Principal Carlotta Brown in the letter sent home about the dress code. “We want them to know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for any setting they may be in. This is a professional educational environment where we are teaching our children what is right and what is correct or not correct.”

It’s unjust to deem certain hairstyles and garments, meant to protect a person’s hair, as wrong or not preparing a child “for a prosperous future.” If anything, Mitchell herself proves that hairstyle has no bearing on what a person can or cannot achieve.

The Editorial Board applauds the 37 members of the Senate who voted in favor of this bill. Passing this bill into law is an essential step toward remedying racial bias in our state. In the coming weeks, the bill will be seen before the Assembly. The Board urges assemblymembers to follow the footsteps of their peers in the Senate and vote unanimously to approve this bill. Send it to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign into law.

Written by: The Editorial Board


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