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Black children still targeted for their hair as fifth state bans hair discrimination

Compilation of screenshots from video about Black History Month with four black children side-by-side on screen.

Four children speak in a video about Black History Month.

Colorado became the fifth state to pass legislation outright banning hair discrimination Friday, but in many places people of color, including children, are still being discriminated against because of their hair. Louisiana high school cheerleader Asia Simo was kicked off of her school’s cheerleading team after serving for captain for three years because her hair is too thick for a “half up, half down” style the team frequently uses, according to CNN. “(Asia’s school wasn’t) sensitive enough to the fact that everyone’s hair doesn’t automatically transform to be put in a particular style,” her mother, Rosalind Calloway, told the news network. “It wasn’t a style that was accommodating for all of the girls.”

Tehia Glass, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, told CNN in school administration it’s easier to pretend there is no bias than there is to go about understanding and addressing it, but it’s the students who suffer for their educators’ ignorance. “They’re going to look around and not know how to deal with something that they’re not used to,” Glass said. “And in some cases, that could translate into someone trying to restrict wearing a hijab, or not hiring someone who wears dreadlocks because you’ve been told that’s wrong.”

Texas high school senior DeAndre Arnold was told he couldn’t walk in his class graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks, and 11-year-old Colorado cheerleader Niemah was told she couldn’t compete unless she wore a fake ponytail to look like her white and Latina peers. In both situations, the authorities explained away their punishments as simple adherence to policies in effect.

At least in Niemah’s case, that reasoning likely will no longer hold up. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he signed Senate legislation identical to a House bill banning hair discrimination, and the very next day Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed his state’s version of the CROWN Act into law. California started the legislative wave, becoming the first state to pass the legislation which uses an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair in June of last year. New York and New Jersey later followed suit.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, told CNN in the absence of such laws discriminatory school policies can negatively impact all students because they rely on arbitrary definitions of what is considered normal. “‘Normal’ looked like a white child’s hair, and everything else is not normal,” García told the news network. By labeling some as abnormal officials are opening children up to potentially be bullied for being different. “It really is an attack on the culture that these children bring into their schools,” Garcia told CNN. “You’re saying the way you and your family dress, the way you and your family … wear your hair, is wrong.”




Why Are Black People Still Punished for Their Hair?

Only black people are shamed when they choose to wear hairstyles consistent with their natural hair texture.


Ms. Tabacco Mar has represented black women in race discrimination lawsuits.


Credit…Deidre Schoo for The New York Times
Credit…Mireya Acierto/WireImage, via Getty Images

It was the fall of my first year of law school, in 2005, and I was headed to my first interview for a legal internship. I wore my only interview outfit, a conservative navy skirt suit and a cream blouse. A classmate complimented me on the look. Then she added, “But you’ll never look really professional with your hair in dreadlocks.”

I was reminded of that day as I watched video footage of a black student in Gretna, La., crying as she was forced to leave school because school officials objected to her hair. They claimed her box braids violated a dress code prohibition against “unnatural” hair styles because the braids included hair extensions. Extensions are sometimes used in black hairstyles, like braids, that don’t require the use of damaging chemical straighteners. The student and a classmate sent home for the same reason were not allowed to return until a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the school after both girls had missed several days of classes.

Far too often, black students are humiliated, shamed or banned from school because of bias against natural black hair. Just one week earlier, a 6-year-old black boy in Florida was barred from school because of his locs, also known as dreadlocks. And last year, twin sisters in Massachusetts were barred from extracurricular activities and threatened with suspension from their charter school because of hair extensions in their box braids, even though white students at the school were allowed to wear hair extensions in other styles.

The shaming and regulation of black people’s hair starts in school, or even earlier, but it doesn’t end there. Consider the case of Chastity Jones, who was selected for a customer support position in Mobile, Ala. After Ms. Jones completed an interview, the company’s human resources manager told her she could not be hired “with the dreadlocks.” Locs, the manager feared, “tend to get messy,” although she acknowledged that Ms. Jones’s weren’t. When Ms. Jones refused to cut off her hair, she was told she would not be hired.

Ms. Jones sued the company for race discrimination, arguing that its hair policy was unfair toward black employees, but a federal appeals court in Atlanta rejected her claim. The court reasoned that discrimination based on race is forbidden because, it said, race is immutable, while hairstyles can be changed. It’s true that hairstyles involve some degree of personal choice, but that doesn’t give employers free rein to discriminate against workers who wear dreadlocks, a hairstyle said to be named by slave traders who viewed African hair texture as “dreadful.”

Afropunk Festival, Brooklyn, 2016.
Credit…Deidre Schoo for The New York Times
Credit…Mireya Acierto/WireImage, via Getty Images

When it comes to hair, only black people and multiracial people of African descent are punished when they choose to wear styles consistent with their natural hair texture. It’s unthinkable that a court would uphold a policy that effectively required white workers to alter their hair texture through costly, time-consuming procedures involving harsh chemicals. Yet that’s exactly what the appeals court apparently expected Ms. Jones to do to keep her job. In May, the Supreme Court refused even to allow Ms. Jones to petition for review, letting the appeals court’s bad reasoning stand uncorrected.

I was luckier than Chastity Jones; I got the internship. But I never forgot the hurtful comment.

Years later, when I joined a large corporate law firm, I noticed that I was the only professional woman of color with natural hair. Most young lawyers at the firm removed their suit jackets when they arrived at work and didn’t put them on again until they left the building. I wore mine whenever I stepped away from my desk, afraid people would see me without it and assume I wasn’t a lawyer.

It’s frustrating that schools, employers and federal courts continue to judge us based not on what we can contribute but on who we are and how we wear our hair.

But there has been some progress. Last year, the Army lifted its ban on locs and twists; the Marine Corps did the same in 2015. That move is a powerful antidote to the notion that hairstyles involving untreated black hair are unnatural and unprofessional. After all, if service members can do their jobs while wearing locs, surely the rest of us can, as well.


Summer Walker Is ‘Over It’: R&B Singer Pens Message To The Black Women Criticizing Her Locs

“Locs used to represent a level of power and strength and devotion to purity,” the “Playing Games” singer said.

Summer Walker


Much like the sentiment echoed in the debut single of her first studio album Over It, when it comes to folks speaking ill of locs, Summer Walker is not “playing games.” Now that the 23-year-old singer has traded in her signature lace fronts for a look that’s contingent on showcasing her natural texture, she’s reportedly become a target for bullying.

On Thursday, the soft-spoken R&B artist took to Instagram to bluntly confront the negative criticism she’s received over her hair, specifically beseeching Black women who’ve shaded her style.

“I’m appalled. Look, it’s got to cease, it’s got to stop — Black women, I’m talking to you. Because it’s not white women, it’s not Latino, it’s not Native American; I checked — it’s y’all. This self-hate is ridiculous,” Walker implored via the video.

She then challenged loc and natural hair haters with a line of introspective questioning.

“Why do you hate yourself so much? Why do you hate your texture? Why do you hate your culture? Why do you hate your history?” she rhetorically queried. “Locs used to represent a level of power and strength and devotion to purity, and now you look at it as scummy — how? How did you get so brainwashed? How? How did your mindset become so tainted?”

Frustrated and confused, Walker’s tone intensified to underscore the tragic absurdity of her critics’ hypocrisy.

“Like, I don’t understand. I used to change my hair two, three times a week; nobody said anything. … Now it’s like people are like personally offended, ‘Take that s**t out! Don’t come to my city!'” the “Girls Need Love” singer said.

“If your ancestors knew, they would fire you up,” she concluded in an incendiary clapback.

Walker — whose Over It made history earlier this month when it eclipsed Beyoncé’s Lemonadewith the largest streaming week for an R&B album by a female artist— previously shared the reason behind her departure from lace-front wigs in an October 11 interview. At that time, her rationale seemed more practical than political.

“During sex, ‘[I]t will come right off,'” she said, according to Essence.

But because haters are gonna hate, Walker’s decision to rock locs has now been bolstered with a greater purpose: Her poised strength serves as an empowering example of natural Black beauty in action


California set to be first state to protect black people from natural hair discrimination

California set to be first state to protect black people from natural hair discrimination
Kari Williams’ Beverly Hills hair salon specializes in natural black hair. She supports a bill that would protect natural black hairstyles from discrimination. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Kari Williams has worked to make her natural hair salon a refuge for black Angelenos, including those who’ve felt pressured to alter their hairstyles to hold on to a job.

Some customers have asked her to cut their locs — short for dreadlocks — because their bosses deemed them unacceptable. Others hadn’t worn their natural hair in so long they forgot what it looked like. That’s why Williams welcomes proposed state legislation that could soon make California the first state to protect black employees from discrimination based on hairstyles.

“It’s important to me as a black woman,” said Williams, who owns Mahogany Hair Revolution, a hair salon in Beverly Hills. “Our skin color and our hair have been used as ways to continue to keep us disenfranchised.”

The CROWN Act, which passed the state Senate in April, was approved by the state Assembly on Thursday. It would outlaw policies that punish black employees and students for their hairstyles. Supporters say the bill’s acronym reflects its intention: creating a respectful and open workplace for natural hair.


If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsomthe bill would legally protect people in workplaces and K-12 public schools by prohibiting the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people. This includes bans on certain hairstyles, such as Afros, braids, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks.

The proposal by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), comes after Chastity Jones, a black woman from Alabama, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case in 2018 after she claimed to have lost a job offer because she refused to cut her dreadlocks.

In California, school officials in and around Fresno have sent black students home because of their curls and shaved heads. The Transportation Security Administration also ushered in new measures after facing allegations of “unnecessary, unreasonable and racially discriminatory” hair searches of black women at Los Angeles International Airport.

Nationally, black employees have filed several lawsuitsclaiming to have lost jobsand faced discrimination in the workplace because of their hair.

Kari Williams, left, who is an expert in hair and scalp care, said that common methods of straightening or chemically treating black hair often damage the hair and scalp.
Kari Williams, left, who is an expert in hair and scalp care, said that common methods of straightening or chemically treating black hair often damage the hair and scalp. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The CROWN Act would extend anti-discrimination protections in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code to include hair texture and styles. It also would amend the California government and education codes to protect against discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and hairstyles — affirming that targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.

New York City officially banned natural hair discrimination in February, saying that hairstyles are protected under the city’s existing anti-discrimination laws because policing black hair is a form of pervasive racism and bias. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey also proposed legislation modeled after the CROWN Actin June.

The legislation comes 20 years after Sisterlocks, a San Diego-based natural hair care management company, successfully argued a case involving hair care discrimination. The company argued its practitioners shouldn’t be required to undergo 1,600 hours of training to obtain a state license because natural hair care wasn’t taught in cosmetology schools and is, in large part, a cultural practice.

“This legislation could potentially set a precedent nationally as our case did,” said JoAnne Cornwell, the founder of Sisterlocks.

Mitchell wrote the proposed legislation, SB 188, and before the Senate unanimously passed it, she described the bill’s purpose as twofold: to dispel myths about black hair, its texture and the black hair experience, and to challenge what constitutes “professionalism” in the workplace.

“Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive in the media, in academic settings and in the workplace. So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional,’” said Mitchell, a black woman.

The bill states that “blackness” and its associated physical traits — dark skin, kinky and curly hair — have long been equated to “a badge of inferiority” because of racist ideologies. And when black employees conform to narrow, Eurocentric ideas of “professionalism” by altering their appearances, there are serious economic and health consequences because of high costs and harsh chemicals, the bill says.

“Racial capital refers to this idea that the farther away you are from Eurocentric standards, the harder it is for you,” said Nourbese Flint, policy director for Black Women for Wellness, a reproductive justice education and outreach organization. “If you are thinner with straighter hair, lighter skin and lighter eyes, that opens up different spaces for you. The farther away you are from [those standards], the harder it can be to get into certain spaces of privilege.”

Flint said her group has worked on issues relating to hair care partly because black women are the nation’s biggest consumers of hair care products and because altering one’s hair can come with serious health consequences.

“We know the hair care products that black women use have some of the most toxic chemicals on the market,” Flint said, adding that the most hazardous chemicals are found in products for permanently straightening hair. “But in order for us to conform to [Eurocentric] standards, we end up having to use a lot of different chemicals that are harmful to our health.”

A 2018 peer-reviewed study examined the hazards of hair products, including hot-oil treatments, anti-frizz polishes, root stimulators and relaxers. The study, prepared by the Silent Spring Institute, which studies women’s health and the environment, found that the products were made with chemicals linked to asthma, birth defects, reproductive issues and cancer.

These health concerns, in part, have inspired some hairstylists to emphasize education, so their customers wouldn’t have to choose between their hairstyles and their health.

Williams, the salon owner, said she has a doctorate in trichology, which focuses on the care of the hair and scalp, to help women deal with the aftermath of straightening and chemically treating their hair.

“The cosmetology schools spend 1,600 hours teaching us how to destroy our hair. We don’t really have formal instruction and training on how to take care of our hair, so I wanted to position myself as a resource for that,” said Williams, a member of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. “That led me to opening my salon.”

In Stockton, Valonne Smith left a career of working in biotech and business development to open Natural Do, a salon where she teaches people about the health benefits of going natural.

“A reason people go natural is because they’re losing their hair, which is either from the chemicals, the pulling and the tightness of the weaves,” Smith said.

Michelle Laron Bryant grew up in Los Angeles practicing braids on dolls while her grandmother taught her to care for her natural hair. Now Bryant, a licensed cosmetologist and author of “Celebrating Natural Hair: For Braids, Twists, Locks and Sisterlocks,” is a trainer with Sisterlocks.

When she had her daughter, Bryant wanted to model natural hair at home the same way her grandmother did for her. She saw other moms do the same.

“For a long time, I worked with a lot of mothers and daughters who were interested in being natural at a time when it wasn’t encouraged because we’re taught that in order to get hired or be acceptable, you had to alter our hair texture,” Bryant said. “We literally had to build a community so we could support each other.”

Williams has a doctorate in trichology, which focuses on care of the hair and scalp.
Williams has a doctorate in trichology, which focuses on care of the hair and scalp. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

SB 188 is sponsored by the CROWN Coalition — a national alliance composed of the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change and Dove. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the California Black Chamber of Commerce and the California School Boards Assn. have also supported the legislation.

That pleases Williams, the salon owner, who once met Mitchell in a campaign office on Crenshaw Boulevard in South Los Angeles. She remembers being excited to see a black woman with locs talking about the ways people can feel confident, beautiful and healthy wearing their natural hair.

“Throughout history, our hair has been used against us,” Williams said. “It’s tough to move forward when our identity has been attacked.”

source:  workplace discrimination based on their hair.