Opinion – Hands Off the Hair


Sophia Lewis and Mariah Coprich – natural hair dress code. Photo by Lauren Caccavella

Sophia Lewis, Staff Writer

California has become the first state to ban discrimination in the workplace and in public schools based on a person’s natural hair. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that protects people in school and at work from this discrimination on July 3rd, 2019. The law begins on January 1, 2020. The law will prohibit the application of grooming policies that excessively target people of color-specifically, black people. Carmelyn P. Malalis said: “[These policies] are based on racist standards of appearance, racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

Though California is the first state to make this move, New York has spoken about their plans to ban hair discrimination as well. New York City’s human rights commission is one of the most developed in the country. The human rights commission covers other forms of discrimination such as employment, housing, pregnancy, and marital status. New York is now the second state to ban hair discrimination. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill on July 12th, 2019, nine days after California. 


Action is being taken in these states to hopefully lead by example and ban discrimination in the workplace and at school based on natural hair nationwide. The ban does not block health and safety rules as long as they apply to everyone. 


Unfortunately, it is far from uncommon that black men and women all over the country have encountered microaggressions, subtle remarks, and discrimination because of their natural hair.

A Manhattan woman, Avery, 39, said that her supervisor who is white, encourages her to relax (Hair relaxers chemically break down and change the hair texture to make it straighter) her hair and makes comments like “straight hair is better.” Microaggressions are verbal, behavioral, or environmental that cause shame, discomfort, or embarrassment. Microaggressions can be intentional or unintentional, but either way, convey a hostile, derogatory, prejudicial, and insulting message.


Dove, who are co-founders of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Coalition have reported that:

 “A black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.” 

“Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home or know of a black woman who was sent home because of her hair.”

“Black women face stricter grooming rules at a rate much higher than white women and natural or protective hairstyles like locs, braids, bantu knots, dreads, etc. are ranked lowest for “job readiness.” As an example, it was only recently that the military dropped their ban on hairstyles associated with black culture. The Marines allowed braids and twist and loc hairstyles in 2015.

The Army lifted their ban on natural hairstyles in 2017.


This type of discrimination and regulation of natural hairstyles is not only commonplace in a work environment, but also in a school environment.

“In recent years, there has been a troubling uptick of stories about students being targeted for natural hairstyles, textures, and styles prohibited in school dress codes,” said Patricia Okonta who is a legal fellow at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She continued,

“Students are having educational opportunities disrupted for simply being themselves, for embracing their blackness.”


In New Jersey, a high school wrestler was given the choice to cut his hair or be forced to forfeit the match. In New Orleans, a girl was sent home at the beginning of school year from a Catholic school for wearing her hair in braids. In Florida, a six-year-old boy was turned away from his private Christian academy on his first day because his hair was below his ears.

All three students were black. Each student’s hairstyle was natural and chemical-free. 


The Jordan School District Policy on hair is as follows: “All students shall maintain their hair, mustaches, sideburns, and beards in a clean, well-groomed manner. Hair, which is so conspicuous, extreme, odd in color or style that it draws undue attention, disrupts, or tends to disrupt or interfere with the learning atmosphere at the school, shall not be allowed.” 


This policy is vague when it comes to identifying what is an appropriate hairstyle. It leaves room for loopholes and arguments between staff and students since a disruptive, distracting, or interfering hairstyle or color is subjective. It especially leaves room for discrimination on natural hairstyles. 


A black female Copper Hills student with braids was quoted saying: 

“I had a bandana holding [my hair] up. [It] was a blue one because my hair was blue and rose. [A staff member] said it was gang-related and then said my hair is a distraction…I can’t use regular hair ties with how much hair I have.”


This student was not punished or successfully dress-coded, but it serves as an example to how the current policy on hair can leave room for unpleasant interactions between staff and students.


It’s important that we understand that it is never just hair. When Africans were forced into slavery, Europeans cut off their hair to strip them of their culture and identity. Doing this made them easier to control and dehumanized them. Europeans pushed their idea of beauty onto African slaves to further detach them from their culture. This included straight hair, fair skin, and thin facial features.


While enslaved, Africans slaves were not given the resources to tend to what hair they had. In an attempt to care for their hair, they used baking grease, butter, kerosene, and sheep brushes.

In the 1700s, freed slaves wore enchanting hairstyles that caught the eyes of white people. This caused the Tignon Laws, which required black women to cover their hair in public. Black women adapted to the law and wrapped their hair in beautiful cloth and tied their hair into elaborate and eye-catching styles. In the 1960s the afro and natural hair became a staple of black power and the civil rights movement. This further promoted the idea that “black is beautiful.”


No matter how people wear their hair, have it be a weave, braids, locs, afro, buzzed, bald, wigs, etc. No one should face discrimination or negativity for how they choose to wear their hair.


Copper Hills is our school and we need to work together to constantly improve it, so it can become an even more inclusive and welcome space for people with all types of hair textures, colors, and styles.