State Senator Holly Mitchell Aims to Make it Illegal for Employers to Discriminate Against Blacks with Natural Hair

Mitchell, who wears locs, introduces “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” bill, The CROWN Act.

Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles wears locs, and, like many Black women, faced white colleagues’ confusion around it.

“I decided to loc at 40,” Mitchell said in an interview. “I was the CEO of the organization, so I thought about it, but I knew quite frankly I was at the top of my game currently in my career, and that it was ‘safe’ for me to loc my hair and that I was also going to send a message to the young women who worked for me and saw me as a role model. To run for office, I had the same commitment.”

To provide the safety to other women, she introduced a bill that would extend protections in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to include hairstyles, citing braids, locs, and twists.

“It’s 2019,” Mitchell said last week in testimony to the State Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved the bill. “Any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me … from a position, not because of my capacity to do the job but because of how I choose to wear my hair, is long overdue for reform.”

She said this is a part of a much “broader cultural” conversation.

That conversation has been happening for as long as Black women can remember, and it hasn’t always had the backing of a law.

The bill said in part:

The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated “blackness,” and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment… policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.

It is backed by the CROWN Coalition (including the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Color Of Change) and also supported by many more including the ACLU, National Council of Negro Women, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and Black Women Organized for Political Action.

The next committee hearing date is April 8.

The legislature acknowledges the historical system of oppression, the preference for European features in workplaces, the dress code policies that deter or punish Blacks, and the variety of natural hairstyles Blacks have outside of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protected afros.

“While anti-discrimination laws presently protect the choice to wear an afro, afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair,” said Senator Mitchell.  “My bill will help ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by specifying in government code that the protected class of race also includes traits historically associated with race identification, such as hair texture and hairstyles.”

The Need for Protections Is Apparent

This video went viral last year of a white woman touching a Black woman’s hair in a fast food restaurant, because of the lack of respect for Black traits as being personal and not public property to do as one pleased.

In Arlington, Texas, Black teens were turned away from employment at Six Flags amusement park due to ‘extreme hairstyles’.

Last spring, the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case of hair discrimination for an Alabama woman who had her job offer pulled because she wouldn’t cut her locks.

In their request, they wrote: “…locs are often the target of scorn and derision based on long-held stereotypes that natural Black hair is dirty, unprofessional, or unkempt. Indeed, the term ‘dreadlocks’ originated from slave traders’ descriptions of Africans’ hair that had naturally formed into locs during the Middle Passage as ‘dreadful.’”

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights enacted guidelines in February that impose a $250,000 fine at minimum to any entity that discriminates against people with natural hairstyles in public places. The policy can force rehirings and policy changes.

Other entities have been slow to reform: The U.S. Navy lifted a ban on dreadlocks and braids last year, four years after the Congressional Black Caucus called them out for dishonorably discharging a woman for not cutting her locks.

Mitchell’s bill, however, would make it illegal to fire, not hire, or treat anyone differently because of their natural hair.


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