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More Lawmakers Conclude That Hairstyle Bias Is Race Discrimination

Earlier this month, Montgomery County, Maryland, passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act. The new law prohibits discrimination against people who wear natural and protective African-American hairstyles such as Afros, locks, braids and twists. It applies to employment discrimination and also public accommodation discrimination.

"African-American residents and residents with African ancestry are more likely to be affected by workplace discrimination and other forms of prejudice," said the county in a statement. "While considering the bill, the County Council heard testimony from residents about the level of discrimination they suffered due to their choice to wear natural and protective hairstyles."

One of the bill's sponsors, councilmember Will Jawando, told reporters that hair discrimination is simply another form of racial discrimination and that the county is committed to exposing and eradicating it. He added that it "deeply impacts individual self-esteem in their everyday decisions about how they present themselves to the world."

Those suffering from this form of discrimination can file a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights. Those who engage in hairstyle discrimination could be assessed a civil penalty of up to $5,000.

Could Virginia pass similar legislation?

Now, the Virginia legislature has passed a similar bill that would outlaw hairstyle bias throughout the state. SB 50, the Virginia Human Rights Act, clarifies that terms like "because of race" and "on the basis of race" will now include "traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists."

The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates and unanimously in the Senate. Now, it moves to Governor Northam's desk.

"We have a lot of talented people, and ethnicity should not be a factor in whether or not they can provide the type of skill that's needed for the type of job that they're performing," commented the owner of Braids N More of SoNo in Chesapeake.

Hair discrimination is a stubborn issue

The issue of black hairstyle bias continues to arise in the press, as students and workers face discipline or worse simply because they're wearing a natural or protective hairstyle. Although there is an argument that federal law prohibits some forms of hairstyle discrimination, the courts have narrowly construed that prohibition.

Jurisdictions around the U.S. are grappling with the issue. New York, New Jersey and California passed legislation prohibiting hair discrimination last year. Furthermore, a federal version of the CROWN Act was drafted late last year.

If you have faced problems at work due to your natural or protective hairstyle, you may have been affected by race discrimination. With these new laws, it may be possible to fight back.

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