Chantay Brown

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A South Carolina lawmaker plans to file a bill later this year that would ban discrimination based on wearing hair in a natural style, which could include curls, dreadlocks, twists or braids.

Rep. Kambrell Garvin (D-Richland) will file the “CROWN Act” (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) to ban discrimination of facial features, hair textures, hair types, hairstyles and protective hairstyles.

The bill is similar to laws that were passed earlier this year in California and New York, which prohibit race-based hair discrimination, and a number of other states have proposed similar legislation.

“My definition of natural hair is hair that has not been altered, it operates in its natural state in a sense that hasn’t had any chemical sort of application,” said Jennifer Dixon-McKnight, an assistant professor at Winthrop University.

Dixon-McKnight, who teaches a course called Black Women in America, was a guest on the Palmetto Report to discuss the topic.

For years, people of color, especially African American women, have faced discrimination in the workplace because of their natural hair.

For example, a 2016 study, conducted by the Perception Institute, found that many people are bias when it comes to black women’s natural hair, often rating it as “less beautiful, less sexy (or) attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.”

“When you think this pervasive lack of knowledge, where people don’t understand the various ways in which African Americans wear their hair and what it means to them culturally,” said Dixon-McKnight. “Then you will have people who are able to dismiss various styles and just assume that it is trendy or just assume that it’s a fad or just assume that it is something that can be sort of cast aside.”

However, she said natural hair has a historical context and for many tribes in Africa hair styles were symbolic.

“Ancestors of African Americans wore their hair, in terms of different styling, the braids, the cornrows,” said Dixon-McKnight.

She also said slave women often had to cover their hair while cleaning, working in the fields or cooking, because having their hair out was not practical.

Dixon-McKnight said people should be free to wear their hair as they like, but acknowledged that people of color have to be aware of how they present themselves in society, which is often a frustrating reality.

For example, deciding on the “proper hairstyle” for a job interview or in the workplace can be difficult, she said, as some businesses require their employees to follow certain dress codes and hair requirements.

“I think when you are going into a specific job, you need to know be aware of what the sort of expectations are for the environment,” said Dixon-McKnight.

She said if a person works in a factory that has dangerous chemicals or flammable materials, then it may be part of the company’s regulations that synthetic hair is prohibited, because it could be a hazard.

Protection for wearing hair in a natural state in a work environment has been nearly nonexistent, but that is slowly starting to change as a number of states are proposing legislation to ban hair discrimination.

Additionally, the sales of hair relaxers and straightening creams, which many black women use to change the texture of their hair, have dropped 18.6 percent from 2013 to 2015, as more people have started to embrace their natural hair.