Afro, beehive, crew cut, mullet—hairstyles can reflect fashion, grooming, background, and preference. Sometimes they’ve revealed class, gender, or religion too. But cultural bias against certain styles is making the topic of hair a bit tangled.
It’s hard to fathom, but examples of hair bias are many:
Teachers tell Native American students their hair is a distraction.
A black TV journalist goes natural with her curls. Her boss says she looks “unprofessional,” and she loses her job.
A Native American worker is told his heritage Mohawk isn’t respectable.
A referee tells a black high school wrestler to cut his locs (the preferred term to dreadlocks) or forfeit.
These are all real cases in the United States. They’re sad examples of unkindness and a failure to embrace the biblical ideal of doing to others what you would want done to you. (Matthew 7:12)
Now several organizations are pushing for more protections against what they call race-based hair discrimination. Their movement is CROWN: “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” CROWN wants employers and educators to stop making decisions based on someone’s hair texture or style.
Last year, California became the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination against black people for wearing certain styles like braids, bantu knots, locs, or twists.
California Senator Holly Mitchell explains that the law states that those hairstyles are linked to race—therefore protected against discrimination.
“We are changing the course of history, hopefully, . . . by acknowledging that what has been defined as professional hairstyles and attire in the workplace has historically been based on a [European] model—based on straight hair,” Mitchell says.
Earlier this year, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a version of what’s become known as the CROWN Act. California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia have all passed similar laws.
Hair rights advocates have also made a proposal in New Mexico. The ruling specifically addresses Native American hairstyles.
“Hair discrimination for people of color in New Mexico is real,” says Aja Brooks, NM Black Lawyers Association President.
Texas high school senior DeAndre Arnold started wearing locs in seventh grade. His father is from Trinidad. Locs are part of Arnold’s heritage and identity.
But last year, school officials decided Arnold wouldn’t be allowed to graduate with his long locs—even tied up on top of his head during school hours. The decision drew ire and attention nationwide.
Arnold hopes to be a vet someday. “I don’t want to be famous,” he says. But he adds, “Hopefully, I’m the catalyst for more cultural acknowledgment and less cultural ignorance.”