Five years ago, it was rare to see women on TV or in ads wearing their natural curls or rocking protective hairstyles. Today women have been more empowered than ever to proudly wear their curls and in ways that protect their natural texture. Watching TV or scrolling through instagram it would seem that it’s becoming more socially acceptable, unfortunately it’s the furthest thing from the truth. In 2019 it’s still totally legal in certain states (outside of NYC and Los Angeles) to discriminate against women with natural hair or protective styles like braids and locs.
It’s become clear that hair is still a social and racial justice issue. Black women and girls are routinely punished for their hair types and styles with the excuse that it’s “distracting,” “drastic,” or “unprofessional.” A Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms and they’re 50% more likely to be sent home or know someone who was sent home from the workplace because of her hair. It’s something that is detrimental to their jobs, learning, and self-esteem. But in young girls it can be a defining moment of trauma that greatly impacts their futures.
In 2017, twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook were sophomores at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, when they were given a “uniform infraction” because their braids violated the school’s policy. They had one week to take their braids out or receive detention. “I was really in shock, I couldn’t believe me as a black girl wearing braids is violating a policy? That doesn’t make any sense,” Maya said. The girls decided to keep their braids in as an act of protest and the punishments started.
“[Administrators] didn’t know the difference between natural or extensions so they called down Black students from class and asked them if their hair was real or not — they said ‘make sure you think long and hard before you answer this question,'”Deanna said. The girls led protests and did detention sit-ins under the threat of suspension and expulsion. This is just one example that got national airtime, but it’s safe to say that this is not the first or the last time girls have been removed from their studies because of how they look.
Last week Shonda Rhimes along with Dove, Senator Holly J. Mitchell, Janaya ‘Future’ Khan, Program Director of Media Culture & Economic Justice at Color of Change; and Esi Eggleston Bracey, COO and EVP Unilever Beauty and Personal Care North America, held a powerful town hall discussion for administrators urging them to advocate for girls. “As an administrator from one of these states what you can really do is go home and start the conversation. It’s not a law yet but as an administrator, you have the power to change the rules at your school, and at least get the conversation started in your school to discuss the policies, to discuss what’s going on in your school boards. Or at the very least stand up for a child at your school,” Rhimes said.
The CROWN Coalition (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) was formed by Dove in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. California State Senator Holly J. Mitchell introduced Senate Bill 188 or The Crown Act, which will make all forms of hair discrimination illegal. And in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 07797 which:
Prohibits race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles; defines “race” for certain specific purposes to include, but not be limited to, ancestry, color, ethnic group identification, and ethnic background, and to include traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles; and defines “protective hairstyles” to include, but not be limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.
Although both Bills go into effect in 2020 there will still be 48 states in which Black women and girls can still be targeted and they need our help.
There are several ways we can all continue the conversation and make a change: