Puerto Rico Debates Bill to Prohibit Hair Discrimination

Puerto Rico has introduced a bill to explicitly ban hair discrimination

Black hair discrimination

Photo: Unsplash/ Thought Catalog

Discrimination against Black hair can range from microaggressive comments in the workplace, to being sent home or suspended from school for wearing certain hairstyles while being Black. This is a problem that’s happening today all across the country, including Puerto Rico. Last week, a bill to explicitly ban hair discrimination against hairstyles like cornrows and Afros was introduced to the public and co-written by Puerto Rico Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, sparking debates across the island. While some officials feel that federal and local laws, including the constitution, already cover hair discrimination, local activists and members of the community are demanding protection for Black hair in public spaces, workplaces, schools, and housing, the Associated Press reported.

“I’m 23 years old, and I’m tired of this problem,” teacher Julia Llanos Bultrón told AP News. “I’m very disappointed with a system that pushes us to change the hair with which we’re born.”

According to the Legal Defense Fund, discrimination against natural hairstyles is pervasive, ongoing, and notably rooted in systematic racism against Black people, especially girls and women. Because of the unique texture and needs of Black hair, the community pioneered a long line of protective hairstyles dating as far back as pre-slavery times including braids, twists, locs, cornrows, afros, bantu knots, and more, as opposed to using chemicals or straightening hair. This is more than a fashion statement; for most, these styles carry connections to Black history, pride, culture, and resilience.

Being removed from the classroom or being denied job and educational opportunities are not new experiences for many Afro-Puerto Ricans. For example, Llanos Bultrón shared that a school on the island would only hire her if she cut her locks. Lorraine León Ramírez, a mother of two sons, explained that her youngest boy was forced to cut his hair to attend school. All this despite the fact that 230,000 people in P.R. identify as Black in a population of 3.2 million. There has been a push in recent years to lift hair codes in schools, workplaces, and government buildings but, if passed, this bill will be the first of its kind to explicitly protect Black hairstyles in P.R. and tackle racism in the law.

In Puerto Rico the laws and constitution, along with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, protect from discrimination per government officials. But a precedent was set in 2016 when a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a discrimination lawsuit after finding that an employer’s no-dreadlock policy in Alabama did not violate Title VII. The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a California law prohibiting discrimination based on hair style/texture which was implemented in 23 other states. It’s clear that this is an issue that needs to be addressed yet it remains at a standstill on a national level. In 2022 the House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act of 2022 but it failed in the Senate.

During a hearing, Lassén said: “What is the problem with adding explicit protection?” While the bill has been supported by many in P.R. including university students, authors, and activists, the debate will continue in the coming weeks.

In this Article

Afro-Latina hair beauty black hair Black hair discrimination news Politics puerto rico trending
More on this topic