McKnight, Reynolds-Jackson, Speight & Timberlake Bill to Prohibit Hair Discrimination Advances in Assembly

Aiming to protect people of color facing discrimination based on their hairstyle, legislation to amend New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination to prohibit such discrimination was approved Monday by the Assembly Labor Committee.

The bill (A-5564), sponsored by Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Shanique Speight (D-Essex) and Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic), would amend the Law Against Discrimination so that the term “race” includes traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.

“Unfortunately, it’s all too common for African-Americans and people of color to be subjected to discrimination at work or school for wearing their hair in braids, twists, and dreadlocks or embracing their natural curls,” said McKnight. “A student at Buena Regional High School in New Jersey was forced by a referee at a wrestling tournament to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match to comply with association rules. With this legislation, the student would have been protected from this kind of discrimination under the law.”

“If a person of color wants to embrace their cultural identity by wearing their hair in a certain style, they should be free to do so without fear of prejudice,” said Reynolds-Jackson. “No one should be told to straighten, cut or change their hair in any way to meet certain norms. It’s time we enshrine these values into our law.”

“It’s almost unbelievable to think that in 2019, people face discrimination because of the way they wear their hair, or because of how their hair naturally looks,” said Sumter. “For many people, their hair is a reflection of who they are, and everyone should have freedom to be who they are, and be protected from racial bias.”

“Every person in New Jersey, regardless of their race, should be able to wear their hair with dignity and without discrimination,” said Timberlake. “This bill seeks to give added protections to communities of color and prevent prejudice and discrimination in the workplace and in the hiring process.”

The bill would take effect immediately upon enactment. It now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further review.