OLYMPIA — A bill to prohibit discrimination in Washington based on hair texture, specifically targeting hairstyles traditionally worn by Black people, is awaiting the Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
House Bill 2602 would amend the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) so that race includes “traits historically associated or perceived to be associated with race,” specifically citing hairstyles including Afros, braids, locs and twists. It passed the Legislature on March 4, with a Senate vote of 38-9.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said that while WLAD prohibits racial discrimination, “we haven’t had any explanation of exactly what that means.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, said the legislation is geared toward dismantling the racist idea that hairstyles traditionally worn by Black people are unprofessional, distracting or unkempt. Morgan was also partially inspired by recent events in which Black high school students have been told they need to change their hair in order to participate in graduation and other activities.
The legislation is now sent to the governor, where it is likely to be signed.
In public testimony for the bill, RaShelle David, representing Gov. Jay Inslee, said the bill aligned with the governor’s “strategic priorities” of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Joyce Bruce and Brittany Gregory, both representing the Attorney General’s Office, spoke in support of the bill, talking additionally about their experiences as Black women.
“For generations, Black people have had to assimilate into white culture, intimately aware of the fact that our bodies, in their natural form, may offend,” Bruce said.
Gregory told lawmakers that employers and school officials are often the ones discriminating against Black peoples’ hair and perpetuating European beauty standards.
“They see Black women wearing their natural hair as a political and aggressive statement, or a signal that Black women are not interested in fitting in,” Gregory said.
The women’s testimony echoed a sentiment that Morgan has repeated throughout the legislative session: that discrimination against Black people’s hair is a remnant of a long history of American racism and white supremacy.
Upon receiving HB 2602, the governor will have five days to sign it into law.