Del. Stephanie Smith (center) leads a March 6 press conference in Annapolis on proposed legislation to restrict discrimination in the workplace based on a person's hair. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Del. Stephanie Smith (center) leads a March 6 press conference in Annapolis on proposed legislation to restrict discrimination in the workplace based on a person's hair. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Del. Alonzo Washington recalled when a few people invaded his personal space and pulled his dreadlocks.

This has occurred while he worked in Annapolis.

That’s why Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt supports legislation to outlaw workplace discrimination based on a person’s hair. He’s the only state lawmaker with dreadlocks.

“I had to address them respectfully and say, ‘You cannot do that,’” he said Friday, March 6. “This bill isn’t going to solve someone’s ability to be raised the way and raised with respect. This is about discrimination in the workplace, but I’m hoping that this elevates the conversation.”

According to the legislation sponsored by Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City), its purpose is to eliminate discrimination associated with race based on a person’s hair texture and hairstyle such as an “Afro, braids, twists and locks.”

The legislation is labeled the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

“If you are confused, people are losing access to their livelihood,” said Smith, who sports dreadlocks. “Hair seems to be one of the last stands of discrimination in our country. I think Maryland should be joining our states across the country.”

However, various forms of hair discrimination have surfaced in various parts of the country.

In December 2018, a white high school referee made a Black wrestler in New Jersey chose to either cut his dreadlocks before a match, or forfeit. USA Today reported the wrestler, Andrew Johnson, decided to have a coach cut his hair. He eventually won the match.

Two months later in February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights made the area the first jurisdiction in the nation to approve a ban against policies and guidelines on how Black employees style their natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles. They include “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”

The commission prompted its ban after complaints from workers throughout the city.

In addition, the commission extended the ban to places of public accommodations that include public and private schools, nightclubs, libraries and fitness clubs.

A few months later in July 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that made his state the first in the nation last year to outlaw employee discrimination based on a person’s natural hair and hairstyles related to race.

Part of its bill states: “Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.”

Colorado became the fifth state Friday to approve the CROWN Act.

Wendy Greene, a professor who teaches employment discrimination, critical race theory and constitutional law at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said federal precedent constitutes race discrimination when a person adorns an Afro. However, it doesn’t when a person dons braids, twists or dreadlocks (usually spelled “locs”). She calls it a “hair-splitting distinction.”

In December, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced the CROWN Act in the Senate and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) in the House. Greene helped craft the legislation along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“For many of us, [hair] is a fundamental part of our identity . . . and be comfortable in this world,” said Green, who attended the press conference and later testified before the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

“Our hair texture has been a long-standing form of subordination and oppression. Unfortunately, it continues into today,” she said.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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