What is the hair discrimination controversy

Dreadlocks are welcome

At first glance, the new law passed in California and signed by the governor may seem like nonsense. This law now forbids discrimination against natural hair in the workplace or at school. California is the first state to pass such a law (although New York has a similar regulation). At second glance, there is a real and serious problem behind it that goes back to the days of slavery. The law expressly speaks of "racially neutral hair care practices that affect people with dark skin to a disproportionately high degree".

If you want to understand what it's about, look at two photos: one shows Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State of the United States, the other shows communist agitator Angela Davis. Condoleezza Rice's hair is straight and slightly wavy. Ms. Davis has been wearing an afro collar since the 1960s - and that's a political statement. They say: I don't adapt. I don't care about white's beauty standards. My afro curls stretch up to the sky like clenched communist fists. Condoleezza Rice's hair also makes a quiet statement: I am professional, cool, matter-of-fact, it says. Skin color does not matter, origin does not matter, what counts is my competence alone. Behind this is a subtle message: I can afford an expensive hairdresser and spend hours getting my hair into shape. Because it takes a lot of effort to get African hair out of its natural frizziness.

For many blacks, the beginning of slavery was the radical shave: All their hair was shaved off - an act of humiliation that meant that their African tradition - which often included magnificent hairdresses - was now lost. After the time of slavery, many black people tried to look like white ladies or gentlemen. And that included getting the hair under control. Frizzy hair was seen as a sign of wildness, neglect, even dirt. It was like that until the 1960s, when young black men of both sexes in New York began to let their hair grow in all directions. Angela Davis later, as I said, turned the afro frill into a political statement.

After that, an era of aesthetic confusion began that continues to this day. Black men who identify with hip-hop culture often wore what is known as “bland” hairstyle: long on the head, stubble-short on the sides. There are also dreadlocks that hang down to the shoulders, so-called "cornrows" (hair that has been braided so that the scalp is visible between the braided rows), artificial hair that has been intertwined with natural hair, bleached hair. And one thing is clear: every black woman who wears straight hair has either painstakingly tamed it with a straightening iron or subjected herself to a complicated chemical procedure. The cosmetics company "Dove" has commissioned a study. According to her, 80 percent of black women in America change their hairstyle because it is required of them in the workplace. Half of all black women have been sent home for their hair - or have heard of someone sent home. Chastity Jones was one of those women. She had an offer to work at a customer care center in Alabama; When she showed up there on her first day at work, her boss asked her: "Are those dreadlocks?" Chastity Jones said: "Yes, they are." Then the boss: "We cannot accept that here." She should go home and cut off the curls. Chastity Jones refused. This was followed by a ten year long legal battle, in which the venerable black civil rights organization “NAACP” (“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People”) intervened; she wanted to take the case to the Washington Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to hear it.

Another case that made headlines in the United States was that of Faith Fennidy. She was in sixth grade and was expelled from school because - horribile dictu - her hair was in pigtails. Half a year ago, a video caused outrage that showed the young wrestler Andrew Johnson. A white referee in New Jersey had given him the alternative of either sacrificing his dreadlocks or not taking part in the competition, so the television cameras turned on the young man while a trainer was busy with the scissors.

The new California law is called the “CROWN Act” - an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace”, but of course this is also the English word for “crown”. It passed both the California Senate and the California State Assembly with no votes against or abstentions. Holly J. Mitchell, a state senator, gave a speech when the bill was proposed. She said, "Many black employees ... will tell you, if given the chance, that trying to maintain what society considers to be a 'professional image' while defending the health and integrity of their hair is one A typical and paradoxical struggle in the workplace is that your non-black colleagues don't have to fight ... It's the year 2019. A law that sanctions a job description where I'm not excluded from a job because of my skills or experience, but because of my hair should have been reformed long ago. "