California Updated Its Racial Discrimination Law To Include Natural Hairstyles

California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed the Crown Act that bans employers and school officials from enforcing a dress code or grooming policies against Afros, braids, twists, and locks. 

California has been the first state to pass the update on the state’s anti-discrimination law that defines race as “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The bill was introduced by Los Angeles Democrat Senator Holly Mitchell earlier this year. In a statement, Mitchell said, “This law protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms.” 

The Crown Act or SB 188 encourages businesses and schools to create and enforce grooming policies with the inclusion of diversity. According to Mitchell, there have been reports of people being denied work or suspended in school due to their hairstyles. 

“However, there are still far too many cases of black employees and applicants denied employment or promotion — even terminated — because of the way they choose to wear their hair,” Mitchell shares in a report from CNN

“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.”

On June 27, the State Assembly passed with a unanimous vote. The Assembly members hoped that the new legislation would encourage other states to follow suit and ban the discrimination against natural hair. 

New Jersey Senators Sandra Cunningham, Nia Gill, and Shirley Turner sponsored a similar bill last June 13. New York also has similar protections guided by the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

A $250,000 fine will be imposed on employers with policies that prohibit natural hairstyles. Workplaces and schools’ dress codes often include prohibiting employees and students from wearing their hair in an Afro, braids, or dreadlocks, which were considered as “unprofessional.”

African-American hair’s texture is naturally tight and curly. Thus, to maintain it, one needs to put it in braids, twists, or locks. People can also choose to let it grow freely, which results in an Afro look. 

To adhere to grooming policies, African Americans often spend lots of money on painful hair treatments to flatten their naturally curly hair. 

Discrimination due to hairstyle

Last year an athlete of the Buena Regional High School was asked to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit in a wrestling match. Alan Maloney, the referee, told Andrew Johnson that he cannot compete without a legally sanctioned cover. 

Though Johnson has a cover, it was not permitted by Maloney since it did not meet wrestling standards. The covering was used in a tournament a weekend ago, and Johnson’s coaches pleaded with Maloney to continue the match. 

The decision was that Johnson had 90 seconds to remedy his hair issue before the match, which prompted a Buena trainer cutting his hair in public. Johnson was asked whether to forfeit or cut his hair. Reluctantly, Johnson chose to cut his hair so as not to impede their school’s chance in winning the tournament. 

A video circulated in social media showing an anxious Johnson standing while his trainer cuts his hair and receiving encouragement from his teammates. 

According to a report in the Inquirer, Johnson’s brother, Charles Jr.,  confirmed that he was upset. After the match, Johnson was off to the side, crying. 

“I felt like he was kind of embarrassed that he had to go through that. And after getting his hair cut in front of the whole school, he had to go wrestle his butt off just to win,” Charles Jr. said.

An investigation was launched to identify if any civil rights were violated. The New Jersey Athletic Association has barred Maloney from moderating matches during the investigation process. 

Another case of discrimination involving hairstyles happened in 2010. Chastity Jones’ job offer was canceled when she refused to cut her hair to work as a customer service representative at a call center in Mobile, Alabama. 

After her interviews, an HR Manager discussed the company’s grooming policy and told her that she could not wear her hair in dreadlocks because locks “tend to get messy.”

Jones proceeded to take the company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, to court due to its racially discriminating decision. However, for the company, the decision was based on grooming policies and not meant to discriminate race. 

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