Hair discrimination bill aims to protect cultural hairstyles associated with race

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Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 9:41 PM CST
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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - A new bill introduced to the Nebraska legislature aims to ban hair discrimination in the workplace.

The bill, LB451, was introduced by state Senator Terrell McKinney this month. LB451 aims to include characteristics associated with race, culture, and personhood within the definition of race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act, and change provisions relating to unlawful employment practices.

Senator McKinney says it would protect people like his daughter, who will one day join the workforce.

“For me it’s important because I have a 10-year-old daughter and in about eight years to a decade, she’ll probably be entering the workplace and I want to ensure that by the time she does get into the workplace, that she can be herself and she doesn’t have to worry about assimilating to the workplace because her hair grows different from others.” McKinney said.

This discrimination often impacts Black women, who wear styles like braids, locs, or even their natural hair. I Be Black Girl Founder Ashlei Spivey, says she knows this discrimination all too well. Spivey used to be a top producer at her retail job before being fired after coming to work with her natural hair.

“My supervisor made comments of like ‘when will you get your old hair back,’ referring to when I would wear wigs and weaves as I was transitioning my hair, and then finally I was taken off the schedule completely and then I was let go.”

Spivey worked closely with Senator McKinney and other advocates to come up with the best wording for LB451. A similar bill, LB1060 was introduced to the Nebraska legislature last year by Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, but was vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts. Ricketts said he understood the intent of the bill, but had concerns over its wording. He was worried the bill would redefine race.

“We really wanted to make sure that it was clear that we were not redefining race, but clarifying race.” said Spivey.

“The difference more so in this bill is that we tried to provide more clarity in the language to make sure that it doesn’t get confused and the intent of the legislation is seen and hopefully the governor understands.” said Senator McKinney.

Candi Jones, an advocate for LB451 also experienced hair discrimination in the past. She remembered a job interview that was going great, until the topic of discussion became her hair.

“He told me during an interview, that I needed to be careful with my hair and that I needed to understand that my hair could be a barrier for me, and that I needed to make sure that people saw me for my skill and not my hairstyle and that he didn’t want it to be a distraction.”

“I just remember how deflated I felt walking away from that experience knowing that he didn’t see me, the professional, he saw me and my hair and how he thought that reflected on me.” Jones said.

When asked again this week, Governor Ricketts said he is more than willing to work with Senator McKinney and advocates of the bill. Ricketts said, “I Offered to work on a version of the bill that would help protect against institutional discrimination because that is a very real issue that people are discriminated against because of their hair, that is related to race, that is something that we can address, but we have to do it in the proper way.”

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