Racial discrimination based on hairstyles continues to be an issue for many people of color. Here in Massachusetts, there is no law making it illegal.
But now, thanks to the experiences of two former Massachusetts high school students, that discrimination might be a thing of the past.
“What would it mean to you two if this hair discrimination bill became law in Massachusetts?” asked Amaka Ubaka.
“It would mean no one else would have to go through what we went through,” said Mya, a former high school student who faced discrimination because of her hair.
Twin sisters, Mya and Deanna, are now 20 years old.
At the age of 15, they made headlines when they objected to their high school’s dress code, which they considered racist.
“I felt very vulnerable going to school every day,” Deanna said.
School officials said the sisters’ braided extensions violated school rules.
Mya and Deanna thought they were judged more for their heritage than their duties and they refused to change their hairstyles.
“We weren’t going to listen to a rule that we knew in our hearts was unfair and unfair,” Mya said.
As punishment, they say they were repeatedly detained and banned from the track team and prom.
“The dean of students came to our class and hand-delivered a detention letter to us in front of everyone every day,” Deanna said.
Their battle made headlines across the country and caught the attention of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who told the school to stop the politics.
The girls kept their pigtails and the punishments were dropped.
State Rep. Steve Ultrino wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again in Massachusetts, in the classroom or at work.
“I can’t imagine what these two young girls went through back then,” Ultrino said.
He is sponsoring a bill to outlaw race-based hair discrimination.
It’s called the Crown Act, but right now it’s only the law in 14 states.
“Why do you care about this issue when it comes to black girls and hair discrimination?” asked Amaka Ubaka.
“If anyone in my district is affected, whether it’s their hair, a disability, their income, who they marry, who they love, I’m going to fight for them,” Ultrino said.
The sisters who didn’t want to change their hairstyle are now helping to change the law.
“We want to pass this bill so that it is illegal to discriminate against hair in any public place,” Deanna said.
“There wouldn’t be so much pressure and anxiety to fit into a certain style just to be able to exist freely without being punished or discriminated against,” Mya said.
If you find yourself discriminated against because of your hair, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
As for the bill, it still needs to be voted on in the Massachusetts House and Senate, but Ultrino hopes it will become law this year.
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