If you have friends of African ancestry in California, you have likely heard the stories. Women and men alike are often bullied by bosses to cut their dreadlocks or pull their afros into a more allegedly respectable style. The bullying does not involve harsh remarks and sternly worded emails either. These people are threatened with their jobs. Even children are affected by hair discrimination. Some are threatened with being booted from their schools. If you are of African ancestry, then you have probably experienced these injustices firsthand.
Do you want to know what is most disturbing in these cases? Firing Black people in America for wearing their hair in natural styles is actually perfectly legal in almost every state. Because of this, it happens all the time. One Forbes article reports that when doing a Google search for “Black person fired for hair” they received 107 million results.
There were also several stories cited in the article of Black women especially who were fired for wearing natural or protective hairstyles, including braids. One woman was even fired for blonde highlights because the manager claimed Black women do not have blonde in their hair, so the worker should remove it. Would the manager have said the same words to an Asian or Hispanic woman, who traditionally do not have blonde hair either? Probably not.
There are now at least two states where Black people of all ages will be free to wear their natural and protective hairstyles without fear of losing their jobs. CNN says that the California bill, which is appropriately called the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act, acknowledges that professional grooming and dress codes standards are too often based on Eurocentric values. To combat this, CROWN bans dress codes and policies that do not allow natural hairstyles, including braids, twists, locks and afros in the Golden State.
So, what is the other state that has gone the extra mile to protect workers of African ancestry from hair discrimination? That would be New York. In February, the Empire State enacted a law to allow New Yorkers to wear their hair in ways that reflected their racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds without discrimination. Will any other states follow this brave new route? Only time will tell.