California Set To Become First State To Ban Hair Discrimination

The CROWN Act would outlaw policies that punish black employees and K-12 students for wearing their natural hair and protective styles.

California lawmakers have passed a bill protecting black people from hair discrimination, potentially making it the first state to do so.

The state Assembly passed the CROWN Act on Thursday, two months after it passed in the state Senate. It now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing.

The legislation, proposed by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D), a black woman, would outlaw policies that punish black employees and K-12 students for wearing their natural hair. Workplaces and public schools would be prohibited from enforcing grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, specifically black people who wear braids, dreadlocks and Afros.

Historically, black men and women are reprimanded in workplaces and classrooms nationwide for wearing hairstyles unique to their culture. Society has often viewed what’s acceptable for black people through a white, Eurocentric lens, labeling locs and Afros as unprofessional or “unkempt.”

“Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive in the media, in academic settings and in the workplace,” said Mitchell, according to the Los Angeles Times. “So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional.’”

Mitchell proposed the bill after Chastity Jones, a black woman from Alabama, asked the U.S. Supreme Court last year to hear her case about a company that rescinded her job offer because she would not cut her dreadlocks. Jones, who complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that a white human resources manager told her that her locs were against company policy since they “tend to get messy.”

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, it’s illegal to discriminate in employment practices based on certain protected categories, including race. Mitchell’s bill would provide that the definition of race under this law also include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective styles.

California would become the first state to ban natural hair discrimination. New York City implemented such a ban in February, saying hairstyles are protected under the city’s anti-discrimination laws because trying to control black hair is considered a form of racism.