New Jersey is poised to follow two other states — California and New York — in passing anti- hair discrimination legislation.
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Assemblywoman Angela McKnight is sponsoring a bill that will add hair as a category illegal to discriminate on the basis of to existing New Jersey discrimination law. The law already prevents employment discrimination regarding categories like genetic information, race, creed, national origin, sex and age. It also protects against discrimination in housing, public accommodations and credit/contracting.
Some Black women who spoke to NJ.com said although they may not have specifically experienced hair discrimination themselves, they knew it definitely existed. However, one woman, Lauren James, previously worked as a waitress and said she believed she got better tips when she wore a straight weave.
“I felt like society liked me better with straight hair,” she told NJ.com.
McKnight, who introduced the legislation, said she decided to let her hair go natural in 2010 while working as a director in medical education. She said she received many compliments but was also faced with uncomfortable stares, which made her go back to wearing wigs and weaves until January, when she decided to embrace her natural hair again.
McKnight also spoke at Curlapalooza, a natural hair convention that took place Aug. 10 in Newark, New Jersey, where she encouraged others in the Black community to celebrate their hair.
The issue blew up in New Jersey specifically in Dec. 2018, when a white referee forced Andrew Johnson, a Black wrestler for Buena Regional High School to either forfeit a match or cut off his locks. A video of the incident shows a white woman shearing off his hair as he stands in front of the crowd, humiliated. He ended up winning the match. The incident sparked outrage in the community, with people sharing their anger at an emergency board of education meeting. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy and Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs also condemned the incident. The referee, Alan Maloney, had been accused of other racist misconduct, allegedly calling another ref the n-word in 2016.
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McKnight has said she hopes the bill — which requires votes from the state senate and assembly — will be passed by the year’s end.