Virginia Bans Hair Discrimination, Becoming First Southern State To Do So

Governor Ralph Northam has made the Commonwealth of Virginia the first Southern state, and fourth in the nation, to ban hair discrimination.

Hair discrimination is the practice of using hairstyles associated with racial identities as a means of discrimination.

Unsplash | Omari Harebin

In the Virginia bill, HB1514, that's defined as "hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists."

Proponents of the bill say hair discrimination has disproportionately affected African-Americans in schools and in workplaces. "A person's hair is a core part of their identity," said the bill's sponsor, Delegate Delores McQuinn. "Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way they choose to wear it."

Some recent cases have sparked particular outrage.


One case in particular has become a lightning rod for the hair discrimination cause. In Texas, 17-year-old De'Andre Arnold was suspended and told that he wouldn't be allowed to walk the stage at his graduation ceremony unless he cut his dreadlocks.

The school board claimed he was in violation of the dress code due to the length of his dreadlocks, but many rejected the board's explanation.

Arnold told KPRC2 that his dreadlocks are a big part of his Trinidadian heritage, and that he has always worn his hair according to the dress code.

Arnold's case grabbed headlines around the nation.

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins tweeted in support of the teen, writing "Never cut your locks Deandre Arnold."

Matthew Cherry, the former NFL player and the author and filmmaker behind Hair Love, invited Arnold and his mother to attend the Oscars with the Hair Love team.

And Ellen DeGeneres invited Arnold onto her show, where she surprised him with a $20,000 scholarship.

Virginia's bill passed the state's Senate unanimously, and Governor Northam happily signed it into law.

Twitter | @GovernorVA

"It's pretty simple — if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race — that is discrimination," Governor Northam said, according to CNN. "This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all."

There is a nationwide movement to make a hair discrimination ban federal as well.

Unsplash | Jessica Felicio

The "Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act," or CROWN Act, seeks to "ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles."

Virginia joins California, New York, and New Jersey in adopting a hair discrimination ban at the state level, and at least 25 other states are considering similar legislation.

h/t: CNN, The Guardian, NBC News, KHOU