KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At hair salons across country, there’s a battle between what’s authentic and what’s acceptable.
Hair discrimination continues to be an issue throughout the country that leads to Black men and women being fired, demoted and disciplined.
“Far too often, natural and protective styles worn by Black women are deemed unprofessional and not suitable for the workplace,” Kansas City Councilwoman Rayna Parks-Shaw said. “Black people are denied jobs, opportunities for education and access to housing because of their natural hair. It’s wrong, and we must do our part to address it.”
This week, Parks-Shaw, who represents the 5th District, and 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson introduced the CROWN Act. The legislation aims to address racial and hair discrimination that Black men and women experience in the workplace.
“Often times we are faced with people saying, there is a lot of focus on race at city council and within city hall, and we have to remember, if we are not being fair, if we are not being equitable, if we are not looking out for every resident within Kansas City, then not much else matters,” Robinson said.
“It is tremendously unfortunate that in today’s time we have to legislate human dignity, that we have to legislate people’s opportunity to show up authentically wherever they are.”
The right to wear your hair however you want is now law in California, Virginia, New York, Colorado and Washington. Earlier this week, the CROWN Act also passed through the U.S. House of Representatives.
It’s also called the CROWN Act in those states. Created in 2019, the CROWN Act is short for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”
Local groups, including Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet and the ACLU of Missouri, and stylists are pushing for action on the hair discrimination act.
“I worked in the corporate work-field for years, and during that time, instead of wearing like my natural hair, which is more coarser, curly texture, I’d opt to wear more straighter wigs just to feel like I’m accepted,” said Whitney Ward, owner of Lavish Hair Beautique. “It’s like, dang we really have to have a law for our own natural hair to be accepted? It’s mind blowing to me.”
Kansas city stylist Whitney Ward said she wants to promote the acceptance of natural hair and make her clients feel authentically beautiful.
“Just because it is not straight, curly hair is beautiful, too,” Ward said. “Hair is hair to me. I like straight hair. I like curly hair. I like braids, and I like locs. Hair is hair, and I feel like we should be able to express ourselves whichever way we choose.”
The local ordinance identifies natural hairstyles, including but not limited to afros, braids, twists and locs as styles that are frequently discriminated against.
Members of the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee will vote on whether to send the legislature to full council at their next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 30.