California Senator’s Hair Bill Focuses on Protecting Cultural Identity in the Workplace

SACRAMENTO -- Racial identity was under the microscope at the State Capitol Tuesday as lawmakers took up the issue of hair.

Every day people come to see Akilah Hatchett-Fall at Sacred Crowns salon looking for a new look. But she says what they leave with is a sense of identity.

"Wearing our hair naturally is a part of our African tradition, our culture," she told FOX40.

She says that means lots of braids, locks and twists. Most of her clientele are women of color.

However, what's considered cultural or natural in Hatchett-Fall’s salon isn’t always welcome in professional settings.

"Several of them have come to either say that they have not been able to get a job or they haven’t been able to sustain a job because they have locks, braids or natural hair," Hatchett-Fall said.

Hatchett-Fall thinks the conventional wisdom needs to change and state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agrees.

"All of us really live under European standards of beauty, what’s acceptable," Mitchell said.

She introduced Senate Bill 188, the Crown Act. It amends the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to prevent employers from making restrictive grooming policies with respect to hair, which Mitchell says discriminates mostly against black employees.

"To really push the envelope about challenging historic notions about what's professional in the workplace," Mitchell told FOX40.

"Our hair texture and our hairstyles have been a proxy for racial identity," said Samford University law professor Wendy Greene.

Greene’s research helped propel the effort. She says discrimination based on hairstyle isn’t new and isn't limited to the U.S.

She, along with the CROWN Coalition, which includes Dove and the National Urban League, are now pushing SB 188 to become law.

On Tuesday morning, Mitchell stood proudly behind the bill and testified in her braids.

"The people who vote for me vote for me based on what’s inside my head, not how I choose to wear my hair," Mitchell said.

The bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously Tuesday.

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