A group of black state legislators want to end discrimination based on hairstyle.
House Bill 2725 and Senate Bill 964 would amend the state Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture or hairstyle, including braids, twists, locks, cornrows,coils and extensions.
In a recent conference call on Zoom, the legislators said seven states – California, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Maryland – have passed similar laws. They want to make Pennsylvania the eighth. The U.S. House passed a similar bill Sept. 21, but the Senate hasn’t acted.
The legislators point to multiple examples of discrimination based on hairstyle. Andrew Johnson, a high school wrestler in New Jersey, was forced to cut off his dreadlocks by a referee who threatened to declare his opponent the winner if he didn’t.
In another, a Mobile, Alabama, rescinded a job offer to Chastity Jones because of her dreadlocks.
Adjoa B. Asamoah, a consultant and a champion of champion for the CROWN Act, cited others.
“A dynamic student in Louisiana was sent home in tears just because she wore her beautiful braids and they were deemed a violation of school rules,” Asamoah said. “A senior in Texas was told he could not participate in his graduation ceremony with his friends because of his locks, the display of his cultural pride.”
CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.
“We are working to end the discrimination against natural hair all of its formations and natural expressions,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-191, Philadelphia, the House Bill’s chief sponsor.
The legislators say black people’s hair is naturally different and allowing people to wear their hair the way they want shows respect for their dignity.
Rep. Summer Lee, D-34, Allegheny, said the issue may not seem like a big deal, but is important to many.
“I guarantee you that as we’re talking about this racial reckoning that we’re having right now, it’s so critical that we address the right just to be,” Lee said. “Our natural hair discrimination is also a form of systemic racism … It hurts our psyche, it hurts our conscience and it hurts our development for our young boys and girls.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7, Philadelphia, said he sat in a braid shop with his wife for eight hours and witnessed the work that goes into braids.
“People are being discriminated against because of their hairstyle,” Hughes said. “Just allow that to sink in a little bit.”
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-181, Philadelphia, agreed.
“There’s so many different ways that black and brown people are told that simply who you are is not accepted in this country,” Kenyatta said.
He recalled fellow legislators questioning his hair.
“This is the natural way that our hair comes out of our heads and we’re facing discrimination with people saying, ‘Well, that’s not an appropriate way to wear your hair.’ That really cuts at the core.”
The legislators said they hope to pass the bills eventually with bipartisan support. Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, D-114, Waverly, is co-sponsoring the House bill.