A bill being considered by state legislators could help reduce the discrimination in schools and the workplace associated with natural African American hairstyles.
SB-188, proposed by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, is known as the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, or CROWN, Act.
The measure aims to end the current school and workplace “grooming standards” that target people of color, specifically with regard to hairstyles.
Hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race and is still a proxy today for race, according to the bill.
Discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with a specific race, therefore, is racial discrimination.
Misty Levingston, assistant director of multicultural affairs, said that although the measure is a great effort toward eliminating discrimination in the workplace, it is shocking to think that there needs to be law for hair discrimination to end.
“The fact that we have to make an act to not discriminate is ludicrous,” Levingston said.
Levingston said that people of color have had to take additional unnecessary precautions when it comes to applying for a job or attending an interview.
“I have had to contemplate whether or not to take my braids down for an interview,” Levingston said. “People of color often ask themselves what they should do about their hair when hair has no bearing on work ethic.”
Levingston spoke about a time when she was discriminated for her hair in the workplace.
“At a previous institution I used to work for, I chose to wrap my hair in a cultural headpiece on occasion because I felt like it,” Levingston said. “However, I was told that I appeared unprofessional, even though I was wearing my business attire.”
Levingston said that as a silent protest, she wore the same headpiece for a month to her workplace.
“Something so simple as hair can be a barrier to success for people of color,” Levingston said. “I hope this act serves as a way for people to regain their justice and remove the unconscious bias that many people have.”
Shyonta Glothon, sophomore psychology and theater major, said that it is hard for her to maintain her natural hair when she becomes involved in theatre.
“No one understands how hard it is to straighten natural hair,” Glothon said. “I’m not going to spend money on expensive products just to fit someone else’s standards.”
Glothon shared her experiences with hair discrimination when she auditioned for Disney where she that the directors had very specific requirements as to how she had to handle her natural hair if she were to get a role. Glothon said that the requirements were not easy, since taming natural hair is not an easy process. Glothon eventually denied the offer because she said it was too much to deal with.
Glothon also shared her various encounters with hair discrimination in her workplace, where she said she is constantly pulled aside and told to either change clothing or fix her hair.
“I am always having to take that extra step when I go to work because I don’t want to be sent home because my hair ‘isn’t good enough’,” Glothon said. “It’s irritating to know that I am always the only one having to take the extra effort of getting ready when my appearance has no interference with how I direct myself to people.”
Glothon said she would like to see this act spread into other states in the country to bring awareness to others of the unique difficulties people of color experience on a daily basis.
Currently, New York is in the process of passing similar legislation to the CROWN Act in California.
The Commission of Human Rights in New York is investigating seven cases that deal with hair discrimination and can impose a fine of up to $250,000 to anyone who fails to meet the new set of guidelines.
Lela Dooley, undeclared, said the CROWN Act could provide a great opportunity for black women and men to feel comfortable about their natural hair in the workplace.
“First of all, it is 2019, there shouldn’t even be any discrimination, especially about someone’s hair,” Dooley said.
Dooley said the act could also serve as a protective force for people with natural hair that face harassment in the workplace.
“This could be a backup for so many people that have been fired because of their hair since it’ll be an actual law,” Dooley said. “Now, they could go to court and actually make a case out of it and gain back the job they deserve.”
DaJohn Duplessis, president of the Black Student Union, said the act could be seen as a contributing factor to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This act just enforces the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement and just shows people that black individuals need to be respected from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes,” Duplessis said.
Duplessis said that she does not have any personal stories that deal with hair discrimination due to the preventive measures she has always taken before walking into her workplace.
“I always have to keep many more things in mind about my appearance when going to work than my colleagues,” Duplessis said. “It shouldn’t be necessary for me to do this but I have to in order to maintain my ‘professional appearance’.”
Duplessis said that there is a possibility that people could bring ignorant commentary to the act and give it a negative perspective, but that it will still gain support from many individuals who know the frustrations of hair discrimination.
“As long as you are a good worker and do your job correctly, appearance doesn’t matter and you should be appreciated and paid for it,” Dooley said.
Alondra Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.