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State Rep. Sarah Anthony spotlights hair discrimination with new bill

(WJRT)
Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 5:08 PM EDT
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(07/24/19) - Michigan could join other states like

and

by passing a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against natural hair.

from State Rep. Sarah Anthony, a Democrat from Lansing, was recently introduced in the Michigan House and has been referred to the House Government Operations Committee.

The bill would modify Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by making it illegal to discriminate based on hair texture and protective hairstyles, including braids, locks and twists. Anthony said she introduced the legislation to help build a stronger workforce.

More stories about workplace discrimination based on hairstyles are emerging, especially within the black community, now that this legislation is providing the opportunity for it.

Many people say they've have dealt with hair discrimination in silence for decades, across generational lines.

"I look at this as more of an economic development and workforce development piece of legislation that's essentially saying the jobs in our state should be filled by all walks of life, all races and all hair textures," Anthony said.

Janice Smith-Polite, owner of Flint's DeDarvells Hair Salon, said the suggestion that she should change her hair is hurtful. That's something she has been told to do over the years.

"I can remember when I was coming up I wore an Afro to a prom and I remember a lady asking me, 'Why would you choose that hairdo?' and as a young girl I wasn't really connecting with what she was saying. Now years later, she didn't think I was pretty enough," Smith-Polite said.

She also remembers struggles she faced while trying to become employed in Texas.

"It was a company that actually expressed to me that they would prefer us not to wear natural styles. They said it was intimidating," Smith-Polite said. "I see how people are being discriminated against. I've had even news anchor women tell me they can't wear their hair in natural states and I mean, 'that's not the look they want to portray.' The look? That's our heritage."

Stylists and barbers at Flint's Salon De Excellence also weighed in on the potential change in Michigan's civil rights law.

"I don't see what my hair has to do with my skill set, doing my job," said veteran hair stylist Deidre Spight-Woodson.

"The hair is not doing the service, the person is," said veteran barber/stylist Jimmy Johnson.

During a time where natural hair care is big business, shop owners hope the legislation can move forward.

"My clientele for natural hair has went up 45 percent with natural hair, dreads, twists," said Salon De Excellence owner Aleta Arthur.

Anthony wants more people to contact her office or email her with their personal stories. She said the next step will be getting a hearing scheduled for the bill.