Black girls, women and men may know all too well the stigma they get for their hair – whether it’s being sent home from school, from work, or being told they’re “unprofessional” for not having sleek, straight hair.
There’s also the added microaggression of people touching their hair without consent.
In a bid to introduce more rights against hair discrimination. particularly for those from the African and Caribbean diaspora, a group of campaigners are calling on the act to become a legal issue.
Labour MP Kim Johnson, The Halo Collective and Glamour Magazine have signed a letter calling for textured locks to become a protected characteristic.
They are urging the equality watchdog to issue guidance that would consider hair discrimination as a form of racism.
The Halo Collective said Black people have been policed for their hair for far too long and have little protection if they’ve been discriminated. Now, if new laws are passed, they would be able to take action against their perpetrators.
“Race-based hair discrimination has been illegal in the UK since the the Equalities Act became law in 2010, and yet it still happens all the time,” the collective wrote on their website:
“For too long, Black people have been told that our hair textures and hairstyles are inappropriate, unattractive, and unprofessional. We’ve been suspended from school, held back in our careers, and made to feel inferior by racist policies and attitudes.
“Together, we are fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles.”
Similar laws have been passed in parts of the US. In March 2019, discrimination on the basis of hair was made illegal in California – the first US state to do so.
This followed a ruling passed in New York City, granting New Yorkers the right to “maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic or cultural identities” – and giving people a means to seek fines if harassed or punished in workplaces, schools or public spaces for their hair.
The founder of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Equality in Education, L’Myah Sharae, said: “Can you imagine being a child and being told that your hair was not suitable for an educational environment, it’s just not acceptable?
“People feel they have to conform to mirror Eurocentric hairstyles in order to progress in the workplace or within education and that is completely and utterly problematic.”
The co-signed letter calls the government to lead the way in educating other institutions about the proper and inclusive way to treat all staff and employees.
“The repeated failure to understand the issues affecting afro hair is a typical occurrence when dealing with a variety of institutions,” the letter reads.
“The guidance will encourage educational and workplace establishments to rethink their concepts of ‘professionalism’ and work towards adopting more inclusive policies, which encourage and celebrate racial diversity.”
Sharae added: “We’re hoping that the government reflects upon that and follow suit, and then also publishes official guidance via the Department for Education by the Department for Work and Pensions and by the government equalities office too.”