I’ve been wearing my hair in its natural state for 20 years now. Yes, we live in a time where we actually count the years in which we have been wearing our God given hair. Believe it or not, there was a time when my generation didn’t always embrace their hair...in fact, we're in a time where many women and men still do not. I've come to realize that even though there are many reasons for this...the truth is that there is a fundamental thread that runs deeps and across all experiences. Naturally kinky, coily and nappy hair is seen by the world, and in turn by us, as NOT valuable. Throughout my journey with Mane Moves in creating content and producing events, the number one concern Black women had about wearing their natural hair was 'How will I be perceived at work?' That is significant. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that question or have seen that as a topic of discussion, blog post, news article, etc.
It was a question that irked me in so many ways. Being able to wear our hair in its natural state in a professional setting was actually up for debate among Black women and that didn't make sense to me. I decided it was necessary to create a workshop where we would challenge that idea. In 2016, my organization, Naturals4Change, along with Lurie Daniel Favors of the Center for Law & Social Justice and Jennifer Lord of Natural Hollywood produced "Is Natural Hair Professional? at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY because we wanted to prepare college students for what they may encounter in corporate America as a Black person who decides to wear their natural hair at work and why. I knew it was necessary for us to realize just how deep this goes within us...I could care less what the world thinks.
Over the years there have been articles written that shared women's experiences with wearing their hair at work. Numerous stories of students being sent home from school, or suspended because their school's grooming policies banned natural hair styles. It seemed as if the more the natural hair movement pushed forward, the more natural hair seemed to be under attack. Fast forward to Black history month, Feb 2019, the NYC Commission on Human Rights released a legal enforcement guidance explicitly banning any form or discrimination, in the 5 boroughs of NYC, based on hair texture and hairstyle that had long been associated with being Black. That was a huge moment in history! But then another huge moment happened in the same month...the state of California introduced ground-breaking legislation called the C.R.O.W.N. Act that would make it illegal to discriminate against natural hair texture and styles across the state! And it was introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, a sister rocking locs! The ball was finally rolling and the it hasn't stopped. There are now 7 states that have passed the C.R.O.W.N. Act or some version of it across the country and its not slowing down.
Reactions to the law were overly positive but met with some confusion at first because many people were not aware that it was actually 'legal' to discriminate against our hair texture and hairstyles. How could that be? And how did this new law come about that seemed to appear out of nowhere? There were many people behind the scenes working on the issue of eliminating race-based discrimination against natural hair for years. Professor Doris "Wendy" Greene was one of them. The daughter of Civil Rights activists, Professor Wendy's legal scholarship was the basis of many of these anti-discrimination laws against natural hair. We sat down to talk to Professor Wendy to understand how she came to be involved in this work and to explore how it was possible for 'afros' to be protected under the law but other natural hair styles were not. You don't have to have a law degree to find this stuff fascinating but it is important that we understand how laws are created and how much work it takes to correct legal injustices. We are truly grateful to people like Professor Wendy who dedicated her life's work to ensuring our freedom through our hair! Tune in tonight at 6pm ET on our Youtube channel for a new episode Mane Moves LIVE: Hair Discrimination & The Law.