It’s now safer for people of color—especially Black women—to wear their hair natural in Triangle workplaces.
The Durham City Council added protections for natural hair to its new anti-discrimination ordinance approved on Monday. Carrboro and Greensboro both protected natural hair in recent updates to their anti-discrimination ordinances, too.
Durham also went a step further. In a Thursday work session, council unanimously approved a resolution in support of statewide legislation that would prohibit race-based hair discrimination in North Carolina’s workplaces.
The resolution seeks to protect coiffures, hairstyles, and hair textures associated with people of color, from braids to cornrows to locs, according to the three-page resolution adopted by the council during a virtual afternoon work session.
State Senator Natalie Murdock, a Black woman who represents half of Durham County in the General Assembly, applauded the news on Twitter.
“Elated that #Durham will be among the first but not the last municipality to fight against natural hair discrimination in #NC,” she tweeted. “Thankful to the many individuals and orgs that will continue to fight for a full #CrownAct at the state and federal level.”
Elated that #Durham will be among the first but not the last municipality to fight against natural hair discrimination in #NC Thankful to the many individuals and orgs that will continue to fight for a full #CrownAct at the state and federal level. https://t.co/Rdd81eYAKI
— Senator Natalie Murdock (@NatalieforNC) January 19, 2021
The Bull City resolution was born out of state and federal legislation first introduced in California two years ago when West Coast lawmakers sponsored the “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, Act.
In 2019 and 2020 respectively, U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey sponsored the CROWN Act to amend, “a panoply of existing federal civil rights law that prohibits race discrimination in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, employment and access to equal rights under the law,” according to the resolution. The act reportedly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last September, but hasn’t passed the Senate yet.
The movement was spearheaded by the CROWN Coalition, a national partnership founded by the National Urban League, Color of Change, Dove, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Murdock told the INDY that next month, she intends to sponsor a bill that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. She says her staffers are speaking with attorneys “regarding some of the provisions to ensure we align with state law.”
“We are working with municipalities to get local resolutions passed to build support,” she added. “Then those local governments can encourage their legislators to support [the new bill.]”
Durham’s resolution notes that for nearly two years, the coalition has sparked a “wave of legislation” that adds race-based hair discrimination to the legal definition of race discrimination.
Two Durham council members—the city’s Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson and council’s newest member Pierce Freelon—both wear natural hairstyles.
“I’m fortunate to have never faced any discrimination for my choice to wear my hair natural, but I know of many Black people who have dealt with discrimination from school administrators and employers,” said Johnson, who wears a crown of thick locs.
“I’m glad this issue is getting more attention from the government and that we’re taking steps to protect Black residents from this injustice,” she added. “
Freelon, who wears slender locs that tumble below his shoulders, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“No problems here,” he wrote in an email to the INDY. “I did grow up in Durham—the progressive center of the South!”
Freelon did recalled some a few mild incidents, but it certainly wasn’t discrimination.
“When I ran for mayor it was mostly Black grannies asking if I was going to cut my hair,” he said. “Bless their hearts, they were trying to protect me!”
There have been recent high-profile reports of racism targeting people who wear natural hairstyles, particularly locs, including the high-profile story of a high school wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to cut his locs to participate in a match.
Last August, Duke University business professor and Associate Dean Ashleigh Shelby Rosette co-authored a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology and Personality Science that found “Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived to be less professional, less competent, and less likely to be recommended for a job interview than Black women with straightened hairstyles and White women with either curly or straight hairstyles.”
Councilmember DeDreana Freeman sponsored the city’s resolution. She was not immediately available for comment, but thanked the city attorney’s office for their assistance in crafting the document.
The CROWN Act has already struck a chord nationwide. So far, the measure has been adopted by seven states and is under legislative consideration in 20 others. It’s described in the city council resolution as “a national movement to address the effects of long-term, insidious racial discrimination against hairstyles and hair textures associated with people of color.”
The hairstyles listed in the resolution reads like a celebration of Black attitude, “such as, but not limited to braids, locks, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, and Afros.”
The council members’s resolution calls to mind the 2001 book Hair Story that begins with authors Ayana D. Byrd and Lori Tharps writing that “the dense, spiraling curls of African hair demonstrate evolutionary genius.”
“Like natural air conditioning, this frizzy, kinky hair insulates the head from the brutal intensity of the sun’s rays,” it reads.
Moreover, the authors note in the early 15th Century, hair functioned as a carrier of messages in most West African societies.
“Ever since African civilizations bloomed, hairstyles have been used to indicate a person’s marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth, and rank within the community,” the book reads.
That changed when enslaved Africans arrived on American shores, where the dominant culture used skin color, along with hair texture and hairstyles to tell a different story about a subjugated people consigned to the lowest caste, where their most distinctive features became badges of inferiority.
Consequently, skin color and hair “has served as a basis of race and national origin discrimination,” according to the resolution.
That racist perspective fueled “longstanding” biases and “stereotypes” that continues to result in people of African descent being deprived of educational and employment opportunities.
That racism continues “in school and workplace policies that bar natural or protective hairstyles commonly worn by people of African descent,” the resolution adds.
The resolution notes that it was not until 2018 that the U.S. Armed Forces rescinded grooming policies that “barred natural or protective hairstyles that servicewomen of African descent commonly wear.”
The military described the hairstyles as “unkempt,” before recognizing the description “perpetuated derogatory racial stereotypes.”
With its resolution, the Durham council supports “prompt legislative action to ban discriminatory practices that is a non-factor on a person’s ability to satisfactorily perform their jobs, learn in a classroom, or serve in the military.”
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