California senate passes bill to ban race-based hairstyle discrimination

The California state Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill adding discrimination based on hair associated with race to the state’s anti-discrimination law, according to CNN.

SB 188 updates the definition of race on the books to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles."

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The bill notes that definitions of professional workplace dress and grooming often derive from European standards and thus penalties for noncompliance disproportionately affect African Americans, according to CNN.

"Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group," the bill states.

Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D), the bill’s sponsor, added that until recently, searching Google Images for “unprofessional hairstyles” would only produce black women.

State and federal anti-discrimination laws protect women’s choice to wear religious hairstyles and head coverings, Mitchell noted.

"However, there are still far too many cases of black employees and applicants denied employment or promotion — even terminated — because of the way they choose to wear their hair," she told CNN. "I have heard far too many reports of black children humiliated and sent home from school because their natural hair was deemed unruly or a distraction to others."

The bill, also known as the CROWN Act, passed the state senate 37-0 and now heads to the state assembly.

The bill’s advance follows new guidelines issued in February by the New York City Commission on Human Rights that classified discrimination or harassment based on hair or hairstyle as a form of racial discrimination.

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the human rights commission, told The New York Times.