In-depth: Natural hair and addressing race-based hairstyle discrimination

Black women are 80% more likely than White women to change their natural hair to meet social norms at work
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Posted at 5:54 AM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 18:25:34-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Many Black women report negative experiences regarding how society views their natural hair. Many people of color even say they've missed out on certain opportunities if they didn't straighten their hair.

At My Shade & Texture, a beauty supply store in Tampa, ABC Action News reporter Anthony Hill spoke with three Black women about their experiences wearing their natural hair.

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"I begged my mom at the age of 13 to get my first relaxer, and if I knew what I know now then, I would not have relaxed my hair," said Pamela Thompson, owner of the shop.

For Linda Hamilton, a beautician who makes organic hair products, straightening her hair was about fitting in.

"I needed to feel, you know, a part of the group looking with the relaxers, you know, hair shoulder-length, looking straight and basically, it was because society had put that on us," said Hamilton.

According to the CROWN Coalition, Black women are 80% more likely than white women to change their natural hair to meet social norms at work, and 86% of Black teens who experience discrimination said they faced discrimination because of their hair before the age of 12.

"I have a 9-year-old, I have a 6-year-old and I have a 4-year-old, and all of their textures are different and, so, I need them to say it's okay for their hair to be naturally curly," said Michon Shaw.

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In 2019, California was the first state to pass what is known as the Crown Act, which stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." Since then, 13 other states have passed anti-discriminatory hair laws. Florida is not one of them.

State Representative Dianne Hart represents District 63 in Tampa. She showed us a state bill proposed in January that would've protected school children who want to wear their natural hair.

"But it did not make it anywhere in the House of Representatives here in Florida, which I find just totally ludicrous because that's a simple easy lift to say we will no longer discriminate against people who have curly hair. Curly, nappy, kinky, other than straight, straight, natural hair," said Rep. Hart.

Furthermore, she said this is not the first time a CROWN Act Bill has been proposed in the State House and Senate without ever making it to the floor for a vote.

"I mean because we're not asking for anything major. We're saying don't discriminate against me because of the type of hair that I may have," said Rep. Hart.

There may be hope in Washington.

Back in March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2116, the federal version of the Crown Act. The bill prohibits race-based hairstyle discrimination.

"It's important federally because then you have consistent law all across the nation," said Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean of Boston University School of Law.

She said if the bill becomes law, it will allow people to seek legal recourse if they have been discriminated against because of their hairstyle.

"But most of them don't say, you can't have braids, locs or twist. They usually use something that's more neutral that gets applied in a discriminatory way against Black people," said Dean Onwuachi-Willig.

As for the ladies, they shared the few pieces of advice they live by and use to encourage other people to embrace their natural hair.

"What I would say is embrace your texture. Do not change for anyone," said Thompson.

"Natural hair is growing," added Hamilton.

"People are gravitating to that. It's a healthy way of wearing out hair and it really looks good." Shaw said. "I would say be unique, be you and that is something we have to continue to strive towards every day."

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Though the CROWN Act being passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is welcomed news for many people of color. It still needs to make it through the politically divided Senate before President Biden can sign it.