By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service
Starting Jan. 1, a law goes into effect banning hair discrimination in Illinois schools.
Studies have shown one in five Black women working in office or sales settings said they had to alter their natural hair at work to feel accepted, and Black students are far more likely to be suspended for dress-code or hair violations.
Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago) introduced the legislation and noted it will be against the law to tell any kid in any Illinois school they cannot wear their hair in the ways traditionally associated with race and ethnicity.
“This is especially relevant for Black youth, Black children,” Simmons explained. “You’re not going to be able to send Black kids home and say you can’t have dreadlocks, you can’t have braids, you can’t have twists. All of that is over in Illinois.”
The bill is known as the Jett Hawkins Act, after a four-year-old boy whose mother was spurred to action when he was asked to take out his braids when he went to school. Illinois joins 13 other states which have passed similar bills, some also extending protections to the workplace as well.
Simmons hopes more states and the federal government will take up legislation to protect against hair discrimination.
“Something as natural as one’s hair has absolutely nothing to do with learning,” Simmons asserted. “And so we want to make sure that schools are completely focused on learning, creativity, healing, and not these other things that are rooted in a very discriminatory past.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination, but federal court precedent only protects people who wear their hair in Afros, and not other natural hairstyles.