California moves to ban racial discrimination based on hairstyles

Law's definition would be updated

By David Williams, CNN
Pixabay

California lawmakers are seeking to enact a bill that would ban schools and workplaces from having dress codes that forbid braids, twists and other natural hair styles.

(CNN) - A bill that would ban schools and workplaces from having dress codes that forbid braids, twists and other natural hair styles has passed the California State Senate.

SB 188 updates the state's anti-discrimination laws so the definition of race "also include traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles."

It passed on Monday in a 37-0 vote and will now go to the State Assembly.

The bill, which is also known as the C.R.O.W.N. Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), states that the standards of professional dress and grooming in workplaces and schools are often based on Eurocentric standards.

"Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group," it said.

Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Holly J. Mitchell introduced the bill and said that it would encourage schools and businesses to create grooming policies "that will foster inclusion and diversity."

In a speech before Monday's vote, Mitchell said that African-American men and women have often had to endure expensive, painful and even dangerous chemical treatments to change their hair to conform to these beauty standards.

She said that until recently, an image search for "unprofessional hairstyles" only showed black women with natural hair, braids or twists.

"I believe that any law policy or practice that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a profession -- not because of my capacity or my capabilities or my experience but because of my hairstyle choice -- is long overdue for reform," said Mitchell, who observed that she wears her hair in a natural style.

Mitchell said that similar state and federal laws protect against discrimination due to religious hairstyles and head coverings.

"However, there are still far too many cases of black employees and applicants denied employment or promotion -- even terminated -- because of the way they choose to wear their hair," she said. "I have heard far too many reports of black children humiliated and sent home from school because their natural hair was deemed unruly or a distraction to others."

Last year, a referee at a wrestling tournament in New Jersey drew widespread condemnation when he ordered a black high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit his match.

In February, New York City enacted a new law that protects the rights of New Yorkers to "maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities."

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