Bill aims to end racial discrimination based on hairstyle

By: - July 20, 2019 7:12 am

Racheal Allen, Block by Block Business Improvement Zone operations manager supports HB 4811 | Ken Coleman

State Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) on Wednesday introduced House Bill 4811 to prevent discrimination by expanding Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to recognize a person’s hair as a characteristic of race.

Anthony’s measure specifies hair texture and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists, as traits historically associated with race to protect Michigan residents from discrimination in the workplace, all levels of public education, public accommodations and services, and real estate transactions.

Sarah Anthony

“As a woman of color, I know people often judge me by the way I look — my perceived gender, my skin color, but also, my natural hair,” said Anthony, an African American who is serving her first full term in the Legislature. 

“It can be so easy to succumb to the pressure to present ourselves in certain ways to mitigate the biases of others, but that prevents us from being the best, most successful version of ourselves. My bill brings us one step closer to being a state where everyone feels empowered to celebrate who they truly are.”

The issue has been in the news in recent years. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, Ga., ruled in 2016 that refusing to hire someone because of dreadlocks is legal.

Racheal Allen, who works as Block by Block Business Improvement Zone’s operations manager in Detroit, told the Advance that she supports HB 4811.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had filed a lawsuit against Catastrophe Management Solutions, a Mobile, Alabama-based firm for rescinding a job offer to Chastity Jones, an African-American woman, because of her dreadlock hairstyle. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the EEOC lawsuit.

However, Anthony’s legislation is modeled after a similar bill recently signed into law in California, which became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hairstyles. There, the state assembly passed the legislation unanimously 69-0. California Gov. Gavin Newsome, a Democrat, signed the bill on July 3. 

Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have introduced bills to address the issue.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.