California Bans Discrimination Based on Hair – Should More States?
Should the U.S. ban discrimination based on hair?
by Countable | 7.10.19
Update - July 10, 2019:
- California has passed the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which bans discrimination against employees based off hairstyle and texture, both of which are often associated with race.
- Golden State Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill into law Wednesday, making California the first state to legally protect people in workplaces and K-12 public schools from discrimination based on their natural hair.
“That is played out in workplaces, it’s played out in schools - not just in athletic competitions and settings - every single day all across America in ways that are subtle, in ways overt," Newsom said during the bill-signing ceremony in Sacramento.
- The CROWN Act passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate. The law will apply to all California residents, but are particularly geared towards African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by policies which ban afros, cornrows, and locs.
- New York City banned hair-based discrimination in February, and lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have proposed legislation similar to the CROWN Act.
Update - May 4, 2019:
- California recently passed the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which bans discrimination against employees based off hairstyle and texture, both of which are often associated with race.
- Senate Bill 188, which passed unanimously by a vote of 37 to zero, was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell of Los Angeles, who noted in a speech:
"A google image search for 'unprofessional hairstyles' yielded only pictures of Black women with their natural hair or wearing natural braids or twists."
- “For centuries, Black people had no choice but to conform to harsh and expensive standards to change their natural appearance,” Mitchell said in a video documenting her introduction of SB 188 on the Senate floor.
- The bill is sponsored by a coalition that includes the National Urban League, the Western Centre on Law and Poverty, and the cosmetic company Dove.
Countable's original story appears below.
What’s the story?
- Banning certain hair or hairstyles in the workplace or at school will now be considered racial discrimination in New York City.
- The guidelines, released by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, will apply to all Big Apple residents, but are particularly geared towards African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by policies which ban afros, cornrows, and locs.
What do the guidelines say?
- The New York City Human Rights Law is meant to protect the rights of city residents "to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities. For Black people, this includes the right to maintain natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, [and] Afros.”
- The guidelines are also meant to provide safeguards to “communities that have a religious or cultural connection with uncut” or untrimmed hair, including Native Americans, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Nazirites, and Rastafarians.
- Businesses that violate the guidelines could face fines of up to $250,000.
What are people saying?
- Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the NYCHR, said hairstyle policies “aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism’” but rather are a means of “limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings."
“This new legal enforcement guidance will help school administrators, employers, and providers of public accommodations to understand that Black New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation. We’re excited to take this step because every New Yorker deserves to be treated with” dignity and respect.
- Ria Tabacco Mar, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, welcomed the new guidelines.
"Far too often, Black people are shamed and excluded from jobs or school because of objections to natural hairstyles, but courts have been slow to recognize that bias against natural Black hair is a form of race discrimination," Mar said in a statement.
- Discrimination based on hair remains legal on a federal level. The Supreme Court declined last year to hear a lawsuit brought by a black woman who lost a job offer because she refused to cut her dreadlocks. This left in place a ruling by a lower court, which had sided with the employer.
- The Alabama federal appeals court said that federal law only protects people from discrimination based on “immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices.”
- “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote.
“So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
What do you think?
Should more cities enact guidelines protecting against discrimination based on hair? Should Congress? Do you think that certain hairstyles should not be worn in certain industries? Take action and tell you reps, then share your thoughts below.
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / wundervisuals)
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