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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Our Natural Hair Is Protected Under Law

T”wina Nobles
Michelle Merriweather

The journey of HB 2602 and our crowns

By T’wina Nobles, President and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League and
Michelle Merriweather, President and CEO of Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

The Black community works and lives in a predominately White space, in a culture that rewards White standards of beauty and professionalism. We have always had to act a certain way and alter our appearance in order to fit in. This includes, among other things, chemically straightening our hair — a process that can become costly and unhealthy. Those who rock natural, beautiful curls are often judged and labeled as unprofessional. But things are changing. Soon, in Washington State our natural hair, which includes twists, locs, and afros, will be protected under race discrimination.

This victory began when Rep. Melanie Morgan of the 29th Legislative District received a request from a constituent in the 28th Legislative District, Rashelle Davis, to sponsor this legislation. To Rep. Morgan this was about more than just hair. She said, “this is attacking historical Black Codes and discrimination as a whole.” By providing a historical context about how Black codes were originally created to help newly freed slaves fit in, Rep. Morgan painted a larger picture of how present day mandatory appearance codes are part of a long and ugly tradition. This led to House Bill 2602, the Hair Discrimination Bill, which passed with bipartisan support. Now, when it comes to employment, those who believe they experienced discrimination due to their hair texture can file a lawsuit with the Human Rights Department.

We cannot thank Rep. Morgan enough for her diligence in championing this legislation. Even in 2020, it is imperative to have this protection. Our hair tells our story, and for so long we have had to hide our truth in order to be considered “acceptable” and to make others feel “comfortable”. The unfortunate truth is, 85% of Black women believe they have to change their hair for employment. Additionally, our hair is 3 times more likely to be considered “unprofessional”. But this is not the case. Our hair is professional. It is our identity and who we are. Now we can unapologetically rock our beautiful crowns however we like and know that we are safe and that we are protected. This does not only protect Black people, but other communities of color as well. For instance, now, Natives and Pacific Islanders who grow out their hair as part of spirituality or tradition can be protected in doing so. The expansion of the discrimination upon race includes traits historically associated which includes hair.

Washington State is now the 6th state in the nation to implement this type of legislation, but the fight does not end here. We need to ensure that every state has a similar protection. The National Urban League is in coalition to promote the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) to work with state legislators in more than 20 states to consider anti-hair discrimination bills. If we can get this passed in all 50 states, we will be able to challenge workplace bias and celebrate our natural hair everywhere.

Michelle Merriweather is the President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, a nonprofit with 90 years of activism and community experience in the heart of Seattle’s most diverse neighborhood, the Central District.

T’wina Nobles is the President and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, a nonprofit with 52 years of activism and community experience throughout Tacoma and the Pierce County region.

The Urban League empowers African Americans and underserved communities to thrive by securing educational and economic opportunities. To find out more visit www.urbanleague.org or www.thtacomaurbanleague.org.

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