California has become the first U.S state to ban discrimination against natural hair. And it’s not a moment too soon for Black students and employees who have been systemically targeted because of their race
Last December, a New Jersey student by the name of Andrew Johnson went viral on social media. The video showed the 16-year-old high schooler in the middle of an intense wrestling match, but it wasn’t his skills on the mat that stunned the world; rather the gut-wrenching sight of a trainer hacking off his dreadlocks.
In the aftermath of the incident, it emerged that the referee had told the high schooler that his hair wasn’t in compliance with league regulations, and presented a brutal ultimatum: cut the dreadlocks or forfeit his upcoming match. Things got murkier when it transpired that the white referee, Alan Maloney, had allegedly used a racial slur against a black referee at a gathering of New Jersey wrestling officials.
Six months later, and the U.S is moving towards protecting Black Americans in schools and workplaces with the introduction of a new bill outlawing discrimination against natural hairstyles.
“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 notes.
The measure, referred to as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) was passed earlier in April, but has now been expanded to include broader range of hairstyles and traits which have historically been the target of racial discrimination, such as protective styles like braids, twists and locs.
“Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” the bill reads.
“Hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for black individuals.”
Though it might seem incredible that legislation was needed to protect Black Americans from hair discrimination, State Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, who introduced the measure, told NPR that she received plenty of letters from constituents whose children had been sent home from school over natural hairstyles that supposedly violated dress code rules.
“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,” she explained.
Meanwhile, a recent Dove survey exploring workplace bias against natural hair found that Black women reported being 30% more likely to receive a formal grooming policy in the workplace, while they were 1.5 times more likely to have been sent home or know of a Black women sent home from work because of her hair. Even the U.S military had a ban on dreadlocks for women until 2017.
The bill was passed unanimously by the State Assembly, and all that remains now is for it to be signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom. With discrimination against natural hair now outlawed in California, there’s good reason to push the bill across the entire nation to eliminate restrictive grooming policies for good. After all, everyone should be able to wear their hair as they please.