KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Businesses would be prohibited from discriminating against people based on their natural hair, under a proposed ordinance approved by a council committee on Wednesday.
Several, including two council members, say they’ve experienced discrimination, with some saying they were prevented from getting jobs or passed over for promotion based on their hair.
Those who want to prevent discrimination based on natural hair call it an implicit bias against Black people, saying too often black hair is labeled as unprofessional.
A study last year commissioned by the Unilever beauty brand, Dove, found that Black women are one-and-a-half times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair.
And eight out of ten black women admitted to changing their hair to try to “fit in” at work.
Some say school bans on locks, braids, twists and other natural hairstyles are racist.
“If I knew I was doing this interview beforehand, I might question whether I have to straighten my hair in order to be viewed as professional, or as credible, or as trustworthy,” Michele Watley of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet said. “Because in our society, we view straightened hair as that. There are stereotypes rooted in racist tropes from years ago that essentially say African- American black hair as it is in its natural state is unkempt. It’s not clean. It’s unprofessional. It’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the way my hair grows out of my head.”
The U.S. military updated its grooming policies in 2014 to accommodate natural hairstyles among Black women.
Kansas City’s ordinance is based on similar state laws in New York and California.
This would not overrule health and sanitation regulations, one of which requires food handlers to wear hair nets, for example.
If approved by the full city council, a business owner convicted of discriminating based on natural hair could face a $500 fine or six months in jail