Respect Equality

Baltimore may join group of US cities banning hair discrimination

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Story at a glance

  • Multiple states ban the practice of hair discrimination.
  • Montgomery County, Md., became the first county in the nation to prohibit it.
  • One council member says hair discrimination can no longer be tolerated in Baltimore.

The Baltimore City Council is reportedly considering becoming the latest U.S. locality to ban discrimination based on hair.

“We can’t tolerate that here in Baltimore City,” Councilman Robert Stokes (D), who introduced the bill, said of discrimination based on hair texture and style which, in practice, has a history of disproportionately harming black Americans, who comprise 63 percent of the city’s population.

Baltimore already has laws barring discrimination in schools, housing and the workplace, with a commission that investigates complaints and, where appropriate, levies penalties. The bill would add hair texture and style to this law, according to the Associated Press.

“To be frank, I wish this was unnecessary,” State Delegate Stephanie Smith (D), who plans to introduce similar legislation for Maryland at large in the upcoming General Assembly session, told the AP. “It’s not something I’m excited is necessary. Nonetheless, I think it’s important.”

A series of high-profile incidents has sparked a push to ban hair discrimination, including a white referee in New Jersey who told a teenage wrestler he would be barred from a bout if he didn’t cut his locks, as well as a 6-year-old boy sent home from a Florida private school over his hair.

A Baltimore Hooters waitress won more than $250,000 in court in 2015 after alleging her manager told her “black people don’t have blond hair” and she could not wear blond highlights.

“Some people will say, ‘It’s just hair, get over it,’” said Tessa Bowen-Reid, a psychology professor at Morgan State University. “But for African Americans, it carries a deeper psychological meaning. … You start to question: ‘Do people not accept me because of my appearance?’”

Several states have banned the practice, including California, New Jersey and New York.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) unveiled legislation in December that would prohibit hair discrimination at the federal level. Montgomery County, Md., also bans discrimination against hairstyles such as “braids, locks, Afros, curls and twists,” with businesses found in violation facing fines of up to $5,000.