BOSTON (AP) — Legislation prohibiting discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles — such as Afros, cornrows or tightly curled twists — in workplaces, school districts and school-related organizations in the Massachusetts was signed into law Tuesday by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Black women in particular have been pressured at school and at work to modify their hair to comply with policies that are biased against natural hairstyles, according to the law’s supporters.
The bill had been unanimously approved by the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate. The new law defines natural and protective hairstyles to include “braids, highlights, twists, bantu knots, and other formations,” and tasks the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination with enforcing the protections.
Policies that limit or prohibit natural hairstyles in all school districts are now prohibited. The law also prohibits hair discrimination in employment, business, advertising, and public spaces.
Massachusetts is the 18th state to pass a version of the bill — known as the Crown Act — into law, lawmakers said.
The law has its roots in the case of a Massachusetts charter school that came under fire in 2017 for a policy banning hair braid extensions.
The issue was exposed when parents of then 15-year-old black girls said their twin daughters – Deanna and Mya Cook – had been punished for wearing extensions, while the white students had not been punished for having violate hairdressing regulations.
After intense criticism, including from Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the school dropped the policy.
The sisters attended Tuesday’s bill signing.
“It really took me back to that first time I had my detention. I was thinking how hard it would be,” Deanna said before becoming emotional, adding, “Nobody’s going to see this again.”
Mya pointed to what supporters of the law say are its long-term effects.
“It’s amazing to know that we’ve changed so many lives,” she said.
In 2019, California became the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination against black people for wearing hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks.
In March, the United States House approved a similar bill that would ban discrimination against black people who wear hairstyles like Afros, cornrows, or tight twists in society, at school, and in the workplace. work. The federal bill would explicitly say that such discrimination is a violation of federal civil rights law. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the federal bill into law.
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley co-sponsored the House bill. The Massachusetts Democrat praised state lawmakers for passing the law.
“For too long black people have been punished for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move and present ourselves in this world,” Pressley said in a written statement.
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