California becomes first state to ban discrimination against natural hair

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A new law signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom makes California the first state to ban discrimination against black students and employees over their natural hairstyles. The authors of this new law say women with kinky and curly hair are sometimes subject to unequal treatment, and can even be viewed as inferior. 

A recent study by Dove says that black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to conform to social norms or expectations at work.

Chastity Jones was locked in a nearly ten-year legal battle after she says an employer took back a job offer at an Alabama call center because Jones refused to cut her hair.

"She said, 'Are those dreadlocks in your hair?' And I just looked at her, and I was like, 'These?'" Jones said. "And she said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Yes, they are.' She said, 'Um, well, we can't accept that here.'" 
"It had nothing to do with the job," she added. "It just had everything to do with my hair." 

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Jones sued the company in 2013 for discrimination and lost wages, but her claim was dismissed. Last year, the NAACP filed a petition to bring her case to the Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case.

"She just didn't make me feel like I was wanted there," Jones said. "Period."  

Jones isn't alone. In August of 2018, 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 would have to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete.  

Dove executive Esi Eggleston Bracey spearheads the CROWN coalition, an alliance of corporate and community organizations that work to highlight bias that pressures women to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty.

"What happens is, your natural hair is one way and you think you have to change that to go into a work environment -- because the view of what's professional is different than what your natural state is," Bracey said.  

Now, lawmakers are stepping in. California state Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced the first law to associate hair as an extension of one's race, which is legally protected. 

"The way the hair grows out of my head as a black woman is a trait of race" Mitchell said. 

braids (Joern Pollex/Getty Images for Lena Hoschek)

Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have now also introduced versions of the CROWN Act. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he's proud to lead the nation by being the first to sign it into law. 

"There's a human element to this. We don't want to diminish people, we don't want to demean people … We have to own up to the sins of the past," Newsom said. "I hope that folks are paying attention all across this country."

New York could potentially be the second state to sign this bill into law. The bill has passed both houses of the state's legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

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