California bill fighting discrimination of ‘natural hair’ passes Senate floor

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California SB 188, which aims to protect traits such as hairstyle and texture from discrimination in the workplace and schools, passed the Senate floor April 22 in a 37-0 bipartisan vote.

SB 188, also known as the CROWN Act, was introduced by Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to a press release. SB 188 would ensure that traits such as hair texture and style — which have historically been associated with race — will be protected from discrimination in the workplace and schools. The bill would also extend protections in the Fair Employment and Housing Act, in addition to the California Education Code, according to the press release.

“For centuries, Black people had no choice but to conform to harsh and expensive standards to change their natural appearance,” Mitchell said in a video documenting her introduction of SB 188 on the Senate floor.

SB 188 will ensure the protection of hairstyles — including afros, braids, twists and locks — from those who enforce “race neutral” grooming policies that disproportionately affect Black individuals, according to the press release.

The bill declares that professionalism is closely linked to European features and mannerisms, forcing those who do not fit those features to alter their appearances in order to be considered professional. The bill text further states that perpetuating a Eurocentric image of professionalism that disparately affects Black people from some workplaces directly goes against “equity and opportunity for all.”

“Federal and state law do protect individuals from discrimination based on religious hairstyles and head coverings,” Mitchell said in the video. “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 added in the video that she had heard too many reports of students’ natural hair being called “unruly” and a “distraction to others.” Mitchell said in the video that she had also heard reports of students being sent home from school, “humiliated” because of their natural hairstyles.

SB 188 is part of a larger package of bills introduced by Mitchell that support what Mitchell calls #EconomicJustice, according to an April 23 press release.

SB 144, one of the bills in the larger package, would end the “imposition of administrative fees” that affects those who have become involved in the criminal justice system — inflicting debt on people “long after they have served their time,” according to the press release.

“Can we truly say that equity exists when our children are denied the right to learn in class because of the characteristics of their hair?” Mitchell said in the video.

Contact Brennan Havens at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BrennanHavens.