Black hairstyles need protection

Photo courtesy Steven Lemongello 

State Sen. Randolph Bracy shakes hands with FAMU College of Law student Ericline WIlliams at a news conference at the Cheryl Couture Salon in Orlando Friday to promote Bracy's CROWN Act protecting black hairstyles from discrimination.

I consider giving birth to my now 2-year-old an easier task than styling her hair. My c-section took about 20 minutes, and I got fancy drugs to subdue the pain.

Now, I get slapped and kicked by a 25-pound mixed martial arts champion for two hours while attempting to detangle her thick mane before parting it into neat sections to braid in beautiful, protective styles.

It’s a fight I wasn’t up for after one strenuous bout last month so I skipped styling and sent her to daycare the next day with an afro.

No big deal, so I thought.

Turns out, my decision to let her wear a fuzzy fro was a very big deal to one daycare worker. This person was so bothered by my child’s hairstyle that she even asked me — in front of her boss — “Would you go to the office with your hair looking like that?”

My toddler wasn’t banished for her afro, but the daycare worker got a verbal lashing from me. That experience left me thinking, again, about the way natural — or a more accurate description, protective — hairstyles traditionally worn by African-Americans are viewed in this country.

Explainer: Natural hair is hair that has not been chemically straightened. Protective styles are braid, twist or lock styles that can protect kinky, coily hair from damage.

Two years ago, a Florida teenager attending Montverde Academy was given detention because her hair was too “dread-like." The school has since removed wording from its policy that disproportionately impacts Black students.

Three years ago, former University of Central Florida football players Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin told me they cried while being forced to cut their locks short because of a strict team grooming policy enforced by former coach George O’Leary.

Stories like these are why Orlando Sen. Randolph Bracy and Rep. Kamia Brown are pushing legislation to help make Florida the third state to give protective hairstyles such as dreadlocks, twists and cornrows protection from discrimination by employers and educational institutions.

Afros are offered more federal protection by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which defines hair texture among characteristics of race discrimination.

Hair styles like dreadlocks are vulnerable to discrimination because the Supreme Court has not yet ruled this to be an immutable characteristic, which the government recognizes as physical attributes that are perceived to be unchangeable or innate.

This gray legal area set the stage for legislators in California and New York to close that gap of protection with the CROWN act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair.

I’ve had locks for exactly one year this November. And I consider my hair an extension of my racial identity, no matter what any Supreme Court judge says, because while I chose this protective style, I didn’t choose my hair texture.

I know some people are still bothered by natural hair. Those people can kick rocks.

My hair is a part of my story, which dates back to intricate braiding patterns in Africa that signified tribes, marital status, age and in some cases even religion, much like a Kippah is worn in one’s hair to express the Jewish faith.

Black hair doesn’t seek or require anyone’s acceptance, but it does need protection.

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