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California becomes the first state to make hair discrimination illegal

The more you know

Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed into law on Wednesday a measure protecting citizens from discrimination based on hairstyles, particularly "natural" hairstyles such as dreadlocks or cornrows.

What are the details?

According to USA Today, Newsom signed Senate Bill 188, which created the country's very first law to protect people from suffering discrimination based on their hair.

The outlet reported that such styles include "non-European" looks, which could include "cornrows, Afros, or dreadlocks."

California state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D) wrote SB 188 — also known as The Crown Act: Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair — and said that she was moved to author the legislation after coming across a photo of herself in dreadlocks in the 1980s.

"I had my hair in natural braids, and it dawned on me that that's the way I had my hair all throughout high school, without any issues," Mitchell explained. "Now, had I been made to feel badly about the way I had my hair, that could have easily impacted my school experience in a negative way."

Mitchell said that her intention with the bill was to prevent persons of color from becoming "victims of a Euro-centric view of beauty and professionalism."

According to the AP, Mitchell added, "We are changing the course of history, hopefully, across this country by acknowledging that what has been defined as professional hair styles and attire in the work place has historically been based on a Euro-centric model — based on straight hair."

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1.

What have people said?

Tiffany Dena Loftin of the NAACP told USA Today, "I'm not going to say we shouldn't have a law that allows us to wear our hair the way it naturally is, but it's also sad that in 2019 we have to have one in the first place."

"It's a step in the right direction," she added. "But a piece of paper doesn't change things overnight. There's a stigma often associated with the natural hair of black and brown people that needs to change."

Patricia Okonta, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, "Bills like the one in California send an important message that hair policing shouldn't be tolerated, and can be a model for other states. There's a long history here, one that associates our natural style with being unkempt or unclean or unprofessional, and that needs to be tackled. Allowing someone to grow their hair out of their head the way they want to should be fine."

Anything else?

The outlet pointed to several instances where people have reportedly been discriminated against over their hair.

In 2018, a Florida child was barred from attending school because of his dreadlocks. Later that year, a New Jersey high school wrestler was reportedly forced to cut off his dreadlocks prior to competition. Additionally, an Alabama woman is asking that the Supreme Court rule on a case she brought forward after she reportedly lost a job in 2010 because she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

One last thing…
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