‘For us, it is a symbol of who we are…’
(AFP) California on Wednesday became the first state to ban racial discrimination based on hairstyle, passing a law to ensure afros and dreadlocks can be worn at all schools and offices.
The law is primarily aimed at protecting the rights of black Americans who favor the distinctive cuts, and was passed unanimously by both state chambers.
It is due to enter into force on Jan. 1.
The law was introduced by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who is herself black and frequently wears microbraids.
“This law protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” Mitchell said.
“For us, it is a symbol of who we are,” she added, describing her own decision to adopt the hairstyle as part of a “social and political statement to the outside world.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the bill, spoke of a high school student who was forced last December to cut off his dreadlocks before a wrestling match or forfeit the bout.
The student was made to choose whether to “lose an athletic competition or lose his identity,” said Newsom.
Critics of the new law maintain that the wrestling rule was uniformly applied and was in place not for racist reasons but to ensure the safety and well-being of the athletes.
However, Newsom claimed it was symptomatic of a broader type of prejudice.
“That is played out in workplaces, it’s played out in schools—not just in athletic competitions and settings—every single day all across America.”
According to the bill’s text, hair “remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for black individuals.”
Employers will still be permitted to require employees to secure their hair for safety or hygienic reasons.
New York City adopted similar legislation earlier this year.
© Agence France-Presse