New York Joins California In Banning Natural Hair Discrimination

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A model prepares backstage for the Etam spring-summer 2018 fashion show in Paris.

The laws come after Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong'o and Kerry Washington have spoken up about the lack of Hollywood stylists for black hair and representation of natural textures in media.

New York has joined California as the second state to ban racial discrimination on the basis of natural hair textures. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the law on July 3, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo followed on July 12.

The California law expands the definition of race when it comes to a person’s rights to a public education and discriminatory hiring practices to "also include traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles." 

It explains that the history of the U.S. is "riddled with laws and societal norms that equated 'blackness,' and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment." 

This law, known as The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), says that this has influenced American standards of professionalism, which is "closely linked" to European beauty features, as some workplace dress codes don’t allow natural black hair. Ultimately the favoritism toward white grooming is in "direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all."

Similarly, New York’s new law expands the definition of race to include hair textures and styles from braids to twists. Last month, New Jersey introduced a proposal as well.

Black actresses in Hollywood have opened up in recent years about discrimination toward natural styles and how uncommon they are onscreen, which could contribute to the stigma. In 2017, Lupita Nyong’o called out a magazine for photoshopping her natural hair, saying she was "disappointed" they "edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like."

DeWanda Wise, star of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, is also described as a "natural-hair enthusiast wearing everything from textured afros to intricate jewel-embellished braids." She told THR, "[My aunts] changed their hair almost every day. I had two hairstyles yesterday. So it was this kind of self-expression, our versatility and just the kind of inherent magic that black women have that drew me in."

Viola Davis has spoken out to say she will only work with stylists with experience in black hair, saying, "What I find is, hair is something that a lot of people don’t honor when you do film."

Furthermore, model Olivia Anakwe wrote on Instagram in March, "Black hairstylists are required to know how to do everyone’s hair, why does the same not apply to others?... I was ignored, I was forgotten, and I felt that. Unfortunately I’m not alone, black models with afro texture hair continuously face these similar unfair and disheartening circumstances. It’s 2019, it’s time to do better." 

And within the industry, shows like Little, A Wrinkle in Time and Us are helping to normalize black hair onscreen, as the former’s stars Issa Rae, Regina Hall and Marsai Martin sported their natural locks in the film. Rita Parillo and Carla Wallace, the heads of hairstyling on Little and Black Panther respectively, have told THR that Hollywood needs more inclusive training for hairstylists on film sets so they know how to style and accommodate different hair types. Kerry Washington added that it is only thanks to black showrunners like Shonda Rhimes that she has been able to have stylists who understand her hair. 

"I believe when you're wearing your natural hair and other folks see it, people aren't afraid to wear it. I feel like it's looked down upon to wear natural hair and looked down upon as not professional. And I feel like the only way to change that is to wear your natural hair," actor Niles Fitch, who plays the teen Randall on This Is Us, told THR.