By Bob Katzen
The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit any person or entity including educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces from implementing any policy that would explicitly target someone who wears their natural hairstyle. The measure defines natural hairstyle as “hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists and other formation.”
The bill also expands existing anti-bullying law in schools to include recognition for students who may be more vulnerable to bullying or harassment because on their natural hairstyle. Another provision requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) to investigate complaints filed against employers who have discriminated based on natural hairstyle.
“[The bill] aims to add protections for individuals who have faced harassment and discriminatory action due to their natural hairstyles,” said Rep. Steven Ultrino (D-Malden), the sponsor of an earlier version of the proposal. “Though racial discrimination is already illegal, discrimination against hairstyles that are considered historically Black is a pervasive issue in our society that needs to be addressed. I am happy that the Legislature has shown its commitment to ending racial injustice and continuing to fight for laws that protect every resident of the commonwealth.”
This law, sadly, is needed to address implicitly race-based conduct taken by some in our society,” said Rep. Michael Day (D-Stoneham), the House vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee. “The House therefore acted to address and prevent the implementation or enforcement of discriminatory policies that disproportionately impacted people of color from wearing their hair in a natural style. We heard compelling testimony from students who were directly and adversely impacted by these arbitrary policies in certain schools and did not hear any reasons, much less any compelling reasons, justifying or demonstrating any beneficial effect of these policies from any districts, schools, employers or the general public.”
“Policies that ban natural hairstyles have been used to discriminate in education, employment, and other areas,” said House Judiciary Chair Claire Cronin (D-Easton). “This legislation prohibits discrimination based on a person’s natural hairstyle and bans such discriminatory policies. Massachusetts would join several other states that have banned discrimination based on natural hairstyles.”