Local council member proposes ban on hairstyle, headwear discrimination

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Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson introduced a proposal to ban discrimination on the basis of hairstyle or headwear in employment, housing and other public accommodations, which will be discussed during the next city council meeting Tuesday.

This ban is intended to prevent discrimination on a racial, ethnic, cultural or religious basis. Berkeley would be the first city to prohibit discrimination explicitly based on religious headwear, according to a press release from Robinson. Other similar policies have been implemented in New York City and in California, such as the CROWN Act — but these focus specifically on hairstyles.

“The City of Berkeley has long been at the forefront of social progress. It’s our mission as a City to promote universal respect for all, regardless of race, sex, language or religion,” Robinson said in an email. “Adopting this law is a step in the right direction for the welfare of this community.”

Sameena Usman, government relations consultant for the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said in the press release that discrimination on the basis of headwear is often an attempt at concealing racism and Islamophobia. She added that CAIR receives dozens of cases in which Muslims are discriminated against due to their headwear or beards.

An alternative action that was considered involved issuing local legislative interpretation guidelines for the existing policies under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to the proposal. It was decided, however, that it would be easier for city staff to enforce and interpret local statute rather than state or federal law. Robinson explained in the email that enforcement of this ban would be left up to the city manager.

Several student groups have also voiced their support for this proposal.

ASUC Senator Omotara Oloye, who serves the Black and Afrikan Community as well as minorities in STEM, said this type of discrimination can be found in everyday interactions or institutional practices.

“This discrimination … can be as subtle or often as microaggressions in class where people ask how my hair changed so quickly in one weekend or at my scholarship dinner where someone asked to touch one of my fellow scholar’s braids,” Oloye said in an email. “But it can also be institutional, such as the California Dance Team stating that dancers have to wear their hair “down and styled” (as stated in their audition packet) as part of their uniform. This makes it inaccessible for people who can’t wear their hair like that naturally or may choose to cover their hair for religious and/or cultural reasons.”

UC Berkeley’s Middle Eastern North African Recruitment and Retention Center expressed similar sentiments in a letter of support. It said this type of discrimination acts as a form of  “white supremacy”and disrupts both education and jobs.

Cal Berkeley Democrats President Sarah Abdeshahian said they chose to endorse the ban because they have witnessed many instances in which students, staff and community members face discrimination based on their hairstyle or headwear.

“This form of discrimination creates barriers for people of color,” Abdeshahian said in an email. “It makes our education, jobs, travel, and other facets of life often inaccessible — and it’s time for the City of Berkeley and cities across the nation to do something about it.”

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.