Local Activists Plan Push to get a Law Passed in Louisiana

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond has stepped into the national debate over Black hairstyles, introducing a bill in the House of Representatives that would prohibit private and public employers from discriminating on the basis of “afro-textured” hair worn by any employee or job applicant. Richmond is joined in sponsoring the legislation by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Ohio-U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio); and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who herself dons hair twists in the halls of the Capitol.

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is the bill’s sponsor.

“For far too long, Black Americans have faced senseless forms of discrimination merely because of how they choose to wear their hair,” Richmond said in a December news release announcing the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act.

Richmond said the bill, also known as the CROWN Act, is “long overdue” and is in keeping with “the notion that our diversity is our strength,” adding, “textured hair should never serve as a professional…impediment” or lead to possible sanction or job loss.

This federal initiative highlights a state-by-state push to protect Black Americans from being discriminated against in the workplace, at school or in other private and public settings because of their hair. Similar laws have passed in California, New York and New Jersey, where a high school wrestler was forced to shave his locked hair or forfeit a match. And CROWN Acts have been introduced in at least a dozen other states.

Meanwhile, Nia Weeks, executive director and founder of Citizen S.H.E. United,  an organization that advocates for and enacts a collective policy agenda to address the needs of Black Women across Louisiana, recently shared that one of the goals for the group in 2020 will be to get legislation that protects natural hair styles introduced and passed in the Louisiana legislature.

Weeks recently talked about the politics of natural hair on a regular social media show where she discusses issues impacting Black women.

“It’s an issue that Black women across the city, state and county navigate,” Weeks said. “First of all, what we do with our own hair to begin with is our own personal journey. But then, how the rest of the world receives us and our hair is another issue.”

To be sure, national and local media reports are regularly littered with complaints of hair-oriented bias in the workplace and educational settings with a recent high-profile example stemming from charges that actor and television personality Gabrielle Union was fired from her role as a judge on the series America’s Got Talent because her hair is “too black.”

Locally, in 2018, an 11-year-old Black student was ousted from Christ the King School because her braided hair was deemed an “unnatural” hairstyle by leaders at the private, Catholic school in Terrytown, La.

Last August, WWL-TV news anchor Sheba Turk faced flak from an angry, racist viewer, via social media for wearing her naturally. The the viewer described it as being “straight out of Africa.” Turk, responded via social media, saying while the viewer didn’t intend his message as a complement, she took it as one. The news anchor, who was backed by the station, also thanked other supporters via Twitter, saying, “I am determined to be myself in every aspect of my life…no matter how much resistance I get.”

While the idea that any Americans would need a law to protect them from backlash for wearing their hair exactly how it grows from their heads or in any other natural, protective style such as twists, locks, or braids might seem ridiculous in the 21st century, it is not far-fetched. And such protections have actually been under attack in recent years.

For instance, in 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that employers have the right to fire staff based on hair texture, siding with a lower court ruling that drew a distinction between immutable characteristics of race, which are protected from discrimination by law, and mutable traits, such as hairstyle, for which no protection against bias is guaranteed by law.

Yet,”with this bill,” said Richmond, “we can ensure this form of discrimination no longer goes unchecked.”

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