MISSION, KS (KCTV) -- California lawmakers are leading a fight to make a controversial practice at businesses and schools illegal for the first time: discrimination against black hairstyles.
California’s governor has signed a bill into law protecting black students and employees with styles like dreadlocks or cornrows.
For black women, hair is more than a style. Their hair is versatile, it’s their crown, and it represents history, politics and race.
“In the 60s you have this, 'I’m black and I’m proud and black is beautiful.' Natural hair was kind of a statement of blackness which was kind of an in your face statement because at that time everybody had been kind of quiet and under the radar and accepting of being segregated and separated," said Adrienne Walker Hoard, professor of fine art and black studies at University of Missouri Kansas City.
Walker says black women have always worn their natural hair, but it hasn’t been as much of a movement as it is now.
For decades, black women used chemical relaxers to straighten their hair to fit the European standard of beauty.
Toni Vaughn owns The Hair Gallery in Mission.
“The history of relaxers come from society telling us we need to have our hair look a certain type of way and that’s unfortunate,” Vaughn said.
According to marketing research firm Mitel, black spending on relaxers fell about 30% between 2011 and 2016.
More black women are ditching relaxers and embracing their natural curl pattern as it grows from their scalp.
“Whether it’s curly, or it coiled, or it’s tightly curled, wearing it out and wearing it free,” said Vaughn.
Wearing your hair in its natural state is a commitment. That’s why protective styles are so important.
“Whether you’re wearing it out and you’re doing a twist out or you’re doing a press, that’s still considered natural you’re just doing a straighter look, whether you’re doing locks or braids those are all considered natural or protective styles,” said Vaughn.
So why California’s Crown Act important?
Crown stands for "Creating A Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair."
It makes it illegal for businesses and schools to discriminate against black hairstyles.
Lashaun Gleese-Briggs owns Your Natural Image in Brookside.
“I don’t feel like it should even need to be a law but it’s a great thing that it’s passed so employers can’t discriminate against people just for having what naturally grows out of their hair,” said Gleese-Briggs.
She specializes in different variations of locks and other natural styles like braids and twists. She’s been growing her locks for ten years.
“We have clients who have to cover up their hair with wigs for their jobs, we’ve had people who tell us that they had to cut their locks off they told them they had to cut their hair off to gain employment,” said Gleese-Briggs.
Hair discrimination happens more often than you might think.
Last August, Louisiana sixth-grader Faith Fennidy was kicked off school grounds because her braided hair violated school policy.
A few months later, a wrestling official told New Jersey high school athlete Andrew Johnson he had to cut his locks in order to compete.
Most recently, Dallas teen Kerion Washington was turned away from a job fair at Six Flags in March because of his “extreme hairstyle.”
In the United States, the law does not currently afford protection for race-based hair discrimination, even if the hairstyle is inherent to racial identity.
California and New York are leading the way to change this. New Jersey is also working own their version of the Crown Act.
“It really breaks my heart that we’re still fighting for part of our culture to be respected for who we are and embracing our hair journey,” said Vaughn.
Personal care brand Dove surveyed 2,000 women in the US, 1,000 black and 1,000 white, all currently employed full-time in an office or field setting or in a recent corporate environment. They found black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy.
A black woman is also 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.
While some states and big beauty brands are working to bring about change, we still have a long way to go.
“You could be missing out on an amazing person because you’re judging them according to how their hair texture or how their style is,” said Vaughn.