WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many Black women face racial discrimination on the job and at school because of their natural hair.
Currently, federal law prohibits racial discrimination against someone wearing an Afro. But this same protection doesn’t include other natural hairstyles like braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.
That’s why advocates are pushing for federal protections known as the CROWN Act to ban discrimination based on hair texture.
The pain of hair discrimination goes skin deep.
“It feels really awful to know the way I am naturally is looked down upon by people. It’s hard because I just want to be natural and be myself,” said Mya Cook, who experienced hair discrimination at 15-years-old.
As teens, twin sisters, Mya and Deanna Cook, were punished by their Massachusetts charter school for wearing braids in 2017. The style violated the school’s policy at the time.
Now years later, their state is one of nearly two dozen banning hair discrimination by passing the CROWN Act.
“Now no one will go through that again it means more than the world - it really does,” said Deanna Cook, who also experienced hair discrimination at 15-years-old.
The law stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” It would prohibit race-based hair discrimination at work and school because of hair texture at a national level.
“It shouldn’t have to take civil rights legislation to declare our human right to just exist,” said Wendy Greene, law professor at the Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law.
Greene helped create the legal framework for the law. Without federal protections, she said many black women and men are being discouraged from wearing their natural hair.
“Because often times they are being associated with being unprofessional or being negatively associated or stereotyped as unkempt, or distracting, or unusual, or even in some instances unnatural,” she said.
A nationwide study from Dove and LinkedIn affirms those concerns.
It shows more 60 percent of Black women change their hair before a job interview. Often changing it from curly to straight.
The survey also shows Black women with coily/textured hair are two times as likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace than Black women with straight hair.
“So many African descended women and girls talk about being forced or pressured to have to permanently or temporarily alter their hair texture like through toxic chemical relaxes, or through extreme heat styling,” said Greene.
The same study reveals about a quarter of Black women believe they have been denied a job interview because of their hair.
At the federal level, the CROWN Act passed with bipartisan support in the House last year but it didn’t make it out of the Senate.
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