In 2019, California became the first state in the nation to officially ban workplace and school discrimination against people for their natural hair. Called the “Crown” Act, the new law makes it illegal for schools and employers to institute dress codes that prohibit afros, locks, braids and other common ethnic hairstyles.
Why was this even necessary? Well, American standards of beauty and acceptable grooming for an office environment have historically been based on white beauty standards.
This puts people of color in a bad position. Not only does it convey the idea that they must conform to white standards in order to be “professional,” it means subjecting themselves to harsh (and expensive) chemical treatments, like straighteners. It also robs them of what can be an important part of their cultural identity.
Not every employer has gotten the message
Unfortunately, not all employers will comply with this new law. They may blatantly disregard it and tell a Black employee with locks that they “look scary” to customers and should change their style, or they may tell a Native American male employee that their braided hair is unprofessional in the office.
Other employers may be more subtle. They may make snide comments about someone looking like they’re “from the hood” because they wear an afro, or they may say things like, “dreadlocks look dirty.” The idea may be to quietly pressure an employee to conform to an unofficial dress code.
If you’ve been the victim of racial discrimination at work because of your hairstyle, you have every right to be offended and alarmed. If your attempts to resolve the situation through human resources don’t help, it may be time to seek legal alternatives.