You may remember a shocking incident that made national news after a New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut his hair on the sidelines in order to avoid forfeiting his match. A referee refused to allow the young man to compete with his dreadlocks intact because they wouldn’t fit the “sanctioned” hair cover. Nor would he allow the young man to use the cover that he’d been using in other matches.
Prompted largely by the attention that came from that incident, representatives in the state have introduced a bill that would make hair discrimination illegal in housing, on the job and in public schools. Many African Americans struggle with negative social attitudes toward their natural hair or traditional black hairstyles — forcing them to adhere to white standards of beauty. Doing so often requires the use of expensive straighteners and other harsh chemical treatments in order to “fit in.”
If the New Jersey law is successful, it would prohibit employers, schools and others from discriminating against individuals based on their hair’s texture, type, curl or style. This would cover traditionally black styles, including locks, braids, Bantu knots and fades.
New Jersey is not the first area of the country to address this issue — although it is an early adopter. California recently enacted a similar law, following New York City. The state of New York as a whole is also taking steps to address the issue. The movement is a recognition that historically black hairstyles are part of African American culture and that “race-neutral” grooming policies can be anything but factually neutral.
If you’ve struggled due to workplace discrimination based on your ethnic background or race, don’t endure the abuse. Find out more about your legal rights today.