Pa. lawmakers trying to make hair discrimination illegal
Sept. 28, 2020
Legislators continued their push for the passage of two bills that would ban hair discrimination in the commonwealth, in a virtual press conference last week.
The press conference followed the passage of the Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2019) by the U.S. House of Representatives, which “prohibits discrimination based on a person's hair texture or hairstyle if that style or texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.” That bill now awaits passage by the U.S. Senate.
The state bills, (House Bill 2725 and Senate Bill 964) would amend the Human Relations Act and “clarify the term ‘race’ to include traits such as hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Further, protective hairstyles include but are not limited to “braids, twists, locks, cornrows, coils and extensions.”
"Braids and afros should never rob someone of well-deserving opportunities. However, we've seen it happen to too many of our brothers and sisters in the workplace, sports and school, including at a Texas high school, where a senior was required to cut his dreadlocks to walk at graduation. I refuse to sit back and let this form of racism stand in Pennsylvania,” said State Rep. Joanna E. McClinton, who represents the 191st District and serves as House Democratic Caucus Chair.
“This is just another way Black and brown people are being victimized for embracing their ethnic roots and going against what society has deemed normal."
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7th District, who sponsored the Senate bill, agreed.
“I am proud to support this initiative and the push to ban discrimination based on a person’s hair in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.,” Hughes said. “Natural hair is beautiful and should be treated as such, regardless of a person’s race. We must end the discrimination that Black and brown people have experienced because of the choice to wear natural hair styles in the workplace, at schools and in other public spaces.”
Lorraine Sealey-Ruley, owner, operator and stylist of Island Designs Natural Hair Salon, a business in Hughes’ district, said the law is needed. Speaking of having to assist clients who work in corporate, serve in the military and teach in schools, she said she has heard countless stories of hair discrimination in the workplace.
“The most recent (encounter) was this week. I hired a new stylist and she told me the salon she worked at told her, her locks were unprofessional,” Sealey-Ruley said. “The salon was a (white) salon. The reason why she went there is because she wanted to know how to do white hair. So, she had to cut her locks out. I just never heard that in my life.”
Sealey-Ruley also shared stories of working with an educator who could not wear braids during the school year and clients who request updos so colleagues won’t notice the texture of their hair.
“Remember, this is something you’re born with. We all have different hair types,” said Sealey-Ruley. “You’re going to tell me because I have kinky hair, I have to alter my hair to seem professional? That’s not right. Why should we have a law on our hair? We should be able to wear our hair how we want (but) if we have to put it into a law, let’s do it.”