What do people think when they see Black hair?

Hair sends a message, intentionally or not. From statements of cultural pride to personal fashion, hair tells us important details about the way people see themselves.

There are all kinds of hairstyles worn by people all over the world. In each instance, it’s different, beautiful and meaningful.

We should be proud of our hair and what it means to us.

Black hair has not been afforded this privilege.

In New Jersey, a 16-year-old high school wrestler recently was told to cut off his dreadlocks, if he wanted to compete. If he did not comply, he would be forced to forfeit the match. Andrew Johnson chose the unexpected haircut. He stood on the sidelines while a woman snipped off his hair. A video of the incident went viral.

In Alabama, a woman interviewed for a job at a call center. She was offered the job, but a manager told her that she would need to get rid of her dreadlocks in order to work there. They “tend to get messy,” the manager told her. When the woman refused, the company rescinded its offer.

In both stories, the referee and the company send Black people a clear message.

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These messages convey that Black hairstyles are unacceptable because they are messy, unsanitary, a distraction and unprofessional. But the “messy” look on white women is trendy and fashionable, as well as their purple hair.

These old harmful stereotypes are simply the continuation of “Black codes.” These codes are deeply entrenched in our nation’s places of employment and education, including here in our progressive state of Washington. They force Black Americans to assimilate into white standards in order to be successful.

These harmful stereotypes can prevent Black Americans from meaningful employment opportunities. These stereotypes are hurtful to all our children; the most innocent and vulnerable group in our society. The message to our youth is they do not belong and are unable to participate in the “American dream” as it is defined by the white system.

Clearly, this problem is not about hair. It is about race and the way it has been defined in our laws.

Currently, Washington state law prohibits discrimination based on race. However, our laws do not define race, which means that hair is not included as a characteristic associated with race.

Black Americans continue to battle implicit biases, microaggressions and stereotypes.

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We in the state of Washington should not wait for more stories like the high-school wrestler or call-center applicant to happen. We should continue to be one of the nation’s leaders and act. This session, I introduced House Bill 2602. This bill will amend the definition of racial discrimination to include discrimination based on hairstyles, textures and protective styles, such as braids, dreadlocks and twists.

In the bill’s hearing, I emphatically said that “black hair is beautiful, it is very versatile, and it just shines.”

People need to know that white hair standards are expensive and, at times, physically harmful for Black Americans. They have the right to embrace the beauty and individuality of their hair.

This bill is for the New Jersey wrestler, for my community, for our children, and for equity in education and the workplace.

Do you have something to say?

Share your opinion by sending a Letter to the Editor. Email letters@seattletimes.com and please include your full name, address and telephone number for verification only. Letters are limited to 200 words.

I am so proud and excited to introduce this legislation. Black Americans should not be denied opportunities and experience due to their hairstyles. It is time for our beautiful state of Washington to protect its citizens. We can reaffirm our commitment to anti-discrimination by supporting HB 2602.

If you support this bill, please share your hair discrimination stories by emailing my office (Melanie.Morgan@leg.wa.gov). It is important to have discussions about equity, diversity and inclusion in our institutions with your own friends, family and neighbors.