California bill seeks to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyles
LOS ANGELES - California is currently on track to become one of the first states to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyles.
A new bill has been introduced in the state's legislature that would ban schools and workplaces from having dress codes that forbid braids, twists and other natural hair styles. The bill has already been passed in the California Senate.
The state's Senate voted unanimously on Monday in favor of the bill, which would update the state's anti-discrimination laws so that the term "race" includes "traits historically associated with race."
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," the bill says.
The author of the bill, Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, gave a speech on Monday before the vote saying, "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."
Mitchell said that these grooming policies often disproportionately affect African Americans, who would have to spend lots of money on expensive products to alter their hair.
Last year, a referee faced outrage from civil rights advocates aftertelling a New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match. A video of the athlete having his hair cut went viral and the incident eventually led to a defamation case in which the referee was banned from officiating meets.
While some federal and California legislation that bans discrimination based on religious hairstyle and head coverings already exists, Mitchell says these measures are simply not enough.
No one spoke against the bill on Monday, but Mitchell said some people worry her proposal would result in a multitude of frivolous claims or that it could prevent companies from requiring workers to wear hairnets or other protective coverings.
"By clarifying that hair texture and hairstyles are tied to racial identity, this bill actually helps makes employers aware of traits that have been historically excluded and helps them create grooming policies that foster inclusion and diversity," Mitchell said
If this proposal becomes law, it could prompt other states to follow. In February, New York City passed a new law protecting the rights of New Yorkers to "maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities."
The measure now heads to the state Assembly.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.