What to Do When Hair Hurts


hair discrimination

The national debate around dress codes and hair discrimination that was sparked by high-school students is still ongoing. As many students around the country continue to face rejection and penalties for their natural hair, some states are not only condemning these policies but are beginning to take legislative action to ensure students are protected legally.


“Hair Love” and the CROWN ACT


Some states have begun to pass legislation to ensure students of color have legal protections against hair discrimination. “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or the CROWN Act, has passed in California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Colorado. The legislation expands the definition of race and protected citizens to include students in K-12 grades. The bill is currently in consideration in 20 states and has been introduced at the federal level.


While legislation is vital in enshrining protections into law, often, the notions of discrimination are fought by changing perception through representation. Karen Toliver and Matthew Cherry attempted to do just that through their animated short movie “Hair Love.” “Hair Love” depicts a Black father trying to do his daughter’s hair. Representation such as this short film is essential in showcasing the importance that hair has to the identity of many Black boys and girls. It highlights the cultural significance of ethnic hair, and how altering it not only impacts their identity but reinforces a sense of inferiority and otherness which can have lasting consequences.


How you can make an impact


The first step is to head to the CROWN Act homepage and get informed on how the legislation plans to combat discrimination in our school, and how your state is doing its part. Once you are informed on the legislation, add your name to a growing movement, and show your support for a concrete step towards anti-discrimination. Call your senator, or send a letter to your representative. Let them know this is an issue not just for children of color, but that this issue is about the strength of our educational system, and the society we hope to build through it.

Local advocacy is just as, if not, more important!


Do not forget about your local representatives and school boards. These leaders can have a direct and immediate impact on the policies that affect our children. Organize your local PTA group to take a stand. And most importantly, VOTE! Applying the pressure on all levels is the best path we have to ensure our collective voices are heard.


Even if direct advocacy is not an option, you can do your part by talking to your children or students about the importance of cultural differences and how even something such as hair can have meaning and significance. By providing a foundation of understanding that stems from our children, we can counter many issues that arise from discriminatory policies that may be slow to change.