The writer, of Omaha, is founder of I Be Black Girl, a nonprofit organization supporting black women and girls. She is also a member of the ACLU of Nebraska’s Board of Directors.
Earlier this month, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce released a statement against systemic racism and racial injustice with more than 150 corporate leaders signing on to advance racial justice. These leaders can make good on their commit immediately by voicing their companies’ support for Legislative Bill 1060, a bill that would ban natural hair discrimination in the workplace by adding hair textures and protective hairstyles to the definition of race under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act.
Just like prejudice and bias against the color of our skin, black people, especially black women and girls, face hair discrimination and alienation from a young age.
I remember when I went natural (no chemical in my hair) and did the big chop. My hair was cut low to my scalp, removing all the years of harsh chemicals and toxins that I was taught made me beautiful. I worked in a retail job, and my supervisor would encourage me to wear hair weaves that were long and straight, the exact opposite of my hair. A few weeks later, I was removed from the schedule because they no longer had hours available for me — despite my having the highest sales of my team.
As a professional, I find it infuriating that discrimination against the hair I was born with can still prevent me from reaching certain opportunities. As a mother, I have to say it devastated me that my son will field inappropriate comments from teachers or future employers about how he wears his hair.
Unlike comments about our skin, in Nebraska no one is legally protected from discrimination targeted at our hair. Current anti-discrimination protections in Nebraska don’t include characteristics of someone’s race or culture as protected classes. That means you can be legally passed up for a job just because you’re a black professional with curly and kinky hair — hair that hiring managers see as “less professional” because of biases.
Earlier this year, state senators heard testimony on why we need to pass LB 1060. They heard from a mother whose son was told to cut his locs despite white employees wearing their hair much longer; a young professional who faced unwelcome questions and comments about her hair in the corporate world; and a college administrator who said a colleague compared her hair texture to a dog’s. I don’t have the space here to share all of their stories or mine. However, each situation was inappropriate, harmful and clearly discriminatory.
For those who don’t believe our experiences: The numbers back us up. Last year, Dove commissioned a national study that found black women are more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than white employees and 150% more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair. It’s no coincidence that the same study found bias against natural black cultural hairstyles. Survey respondents ranked locs, braids and bantu knots lowest in terms of job readiness.
Black people take pride in our hair — it’s part of who we are — but our hair has no place in conversation when it comes to hiring or promotion decisions. Like every other person in your workplace, we want to be known for the skills we bring to the job and the effort we put in. That’s why lawmakers in states from Ohio to Maryland are working to extend this protection to black workers this year. Nebraska should do the same.
This is bigger than our hair — it’s about having the freedom to show up as our full, complete, unapologetic, curly, kinky selves without being forced to assimilate to Eurocentric beauty standards.
Nebraska’s business leaders have said they want to listen and act. They’ve promised to support policies that will make their workplaces and our state more just. So show us. Because with less than a month before legislators reconvene, lawmakers need to know that ending natural hair discrimination is a priority for Nebraska. To make that happen, it’s time for all of us to show up and get to work.