California Becomes First State to Ban Hairstyle Discrimination

06 July, 2019

California has become the first state to ban discrimination against black people for wearing natural hairstyles to work and school. This includes styles such as afros, braids, twists and locks. On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law.

Democratic Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, a black woman, proposed the law. Mitchell wears her hair in locks. The law makes California the first state to clearly say such hairstyles are linked to race and therefore protected against discrimination.

"We are changing the course of history, hopefully, across this country," Mitchell said. The law shows that what has been defined as "professional hair styles" and clothing has historically been European-centered, she said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, middle, signs State Bill, SB-188 Discrimination: hairstyles by Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, third from left, that bans discrimination against black people for natural hairstyles.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, middle, signs State Bill, SB-188 Discrimination: hairstyles by Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, third from left, that bans discrimination against black people for natural hairstyles.

Stephanie Hunter-Ray owns a hair salon in Sacramento. She also sells makeup at a department store. Hunter-Ray says she usually wears her hair braided or in an afro. But one day she went to work with straightened hair. Her supervisor told her that was the first time her hair looked "normal."

Hunter-Ray told The Associated Press that the comment troubled her.

"What do you mean by ‘normal?' Your normal is not my normal. My normal is my [afro] or my braids," Hunter-Ray said.

Her salon specializes in natural hair styles.

Alikah Hatchett-Fall runs Sacred Crowns Salon, also in Sacramento. She said many black men have come to her salon asking to cut off their hair because they could not get jobs.

The law, she said, "means that psychologically and mentally people can be at ease."

California's new law takes effect January 1. It will permit people to take cases of suspected discrimination involving hair to court. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case of an Alabama woman who said she did not get a job because she would not change her hair.

The issue was also publicized last December after a video from a wrestling competition in New Jersey surfaced. Before the competition, a white referee told a black high school wrestler that he must cut off his locks to compete. California's governor said the video was a clear example of the discrimination black people in America face.

Though California is the first state with such a law, New York City earlier this year issued legal guidance about discrimination based on hairstyle. The beauty products company Dove has partnered with organizations pushing for more hairstyle protections. And Mitchell said she hopes other states follow California.

Mitchell's bill adds language to the state's discrimination laws to say that "race" also includes "traits historically associated with race." They include hair textures and protective hairstyles. It further defines protective hairstyles as braids, twists and locks.

At Hunter-Ray's salon, Exquisite U, on Wednesday, hairstylists and customers discussed the new law.

Customer Shereen Africa was having her hair re-braided by Elicia Drayton that day. She said she used to work at a television station in Mississippi. There, a black broadcaster left the job because of mistreatment she received for wearing locks. Africa said she did not wear her hair in braids at the job because the environment was not supportive.

A broadcaster at another Mississippi television station made national news when she was fired after she stopped straightening her hair.

"You want to go to work and feel free," Drayton said. "You don't want to have to feel like you have to put on a wig or you have to have your hair straight to please someone."

I'm Alice Bryant.

Kathleen Ronayne reported this story for The Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

afron. a hairstyle of very tight curls that grow out around the head

braidsn. an arrangement of hair made by weaving three sections together

twistsn. the twisting of two sections of hair around one another

locksn. the natural gathering or "locking" of several strands of hair

salonn. a business that gives customers beauty treatments, such as hair cuts

makeupn. substances (such as lipstick or powder) used to make someone's face look more attractive

straightenv. the flattening and straightening of hair to give it a smooth look; usually done with a hair iron, hot comb or harsh chemicals

wrestlinggerund. a sport in which two people try to throw, force, or pin each other to the ground (v. wrestle)

refereen. a person who makes sure that players act according to the rules of a game or sport

traitn. a quality that makes one person or thing different from another

texturen. the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance

wig n. artificial hair worn to cover baldness or to change one's appearance