HOUSTON – A Texas lawmaker is helping to champion a law that would prevent hair discrimination in the workplace and in schools.
Deandre Arnold, a former high school senior from Mont Belvieu, was suspended in 2002 over the length of his dreadlocks.
The dress code at Barbers Hill High School forced Arnold to choose between his Trinidadian culture and his diploma.
“They said that even though my hair was up, that if it was down it would be out of dress code,” Deandre told KPRC 2.
Deandre made national news with the story going viral. His dreadlocks received love from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres. The high school senior ultimately transferred to another school in order to graduate and keep his long hair.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds from Missouri City said right now, Texas has no law protecting against hair discrimination based on style or texture. There’s no protection in an office setting or in the classroom, but Reynolds said that has to change.
“We believe it’s right on time for Texas to move into the 21st Century,” said Reynolds.
Kiara Meade is a Houston-area school counselor who transitioned to her natural roots 10 years ago and now wears dreadlocks. Meade hasn’t faced punishment from an employer, but she said there were times when she felt uncomfortable at work.
“More so with colleagues if they could ask if they could touch my hair,” she recounted. “Some have been just genuine curiosity, and some - I don’t want to say they were looking at me like a zoo.”
Meade said for far too long straight hair has been perceived as the standard of beauty.
“So, I think it’s really important to talk about the beauty of our hair. To talk about versatility. It’s our pride. It’s our joy,” Meade said.
Research by the Crown Coalition, which advocates for ending hair discrimination, found that black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the work for their hair. The study also found 80% of women would change their hair from its natural state to adapt in predominantly white workplaces.
Timeka Moore specializes in natural hair at her salon Sugacurls in west Houston. Moore said in the 17 years she’s been doing natural hair, she’s noticed that times are changing.
More women are transitioning from chemical relaxers, which she said are toxic to the skin, back to natural waves, kinks, curls and coils. Some even choose to use protective styles like braids and wigs to reduce the tension on their follicles.
Moore said reciting positive affirmations can help foster self-love.
“When they do that, they can look in the mirror and say, ‘It doesn’t matter if so-and-so doesn’t like my curl pattern. (It) doesn’t matter what this person says. I’m beautiful the way I am,’” Moore said.
Katy-based hair specialist, Karess The Stylist, said the natural hair movement has come a long way.
“If you go to Target and you walk down the ethnic hair care aisle, you’ll see a lot more hair care products now,” she said. “There’s a greater selection now than how it was in 2009.”
In the past, many naturals had to make hair products out of their kitchen.
“We had to become our own hair chemist and (it) kind of became a hobby for some of us, and that’s really how a lot of products made their way to the shelves,” said Jessica Tapley, a manager at Target in Missouri City.
Now, there are options. Tapley said the average Target store will carry 59 brands of products tailored to natural hair.
All of this progress and growth is something Shavon LeBlanc has been working toward. She’s the author of “Fearless,” a children’s book of 21 affirmations to help children be bold, confident and courageous. On the cover, you’ll find young girls wearing waves and puffs.
“I think representation is important,” LeBlanc said. “I think young girls seeing other girls that look like them in print is so vital.”
Reynolds has introduced House Bill 38, which is more widely known as the CROWN Ac, in the Texas Legislature.
“There’s been a national movement for the CROWN Act, and we believe it’s right on time for Texas to move into the 21st Century and look at students and people based upon their work ethic not based upon how they chose to wear their hair,” said the lawmaker.
Eight states have passed the CROWN Act. Reynolds is hopeful Texas will be next.
HB 38 was referred to the States Affairs Committee in February. Reynolds said he’s working to get bi-partisan support so it can head to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.