Toto, I don’t think we’re going to have trouble wearing our naturally textured hair in Kansas anymore—at least, we hope not.
OK, that’s optimistic (and to the best of our knowledge, there’s no easing on down the road involved), but what’s promising is a new bill (pdf) proposed by Wichita Democratic Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, which would amend “the definition of ‘race’ in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
According to the Wichita Eagle, Faust-Goudeau was inspired by the humiliating experience of New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson, who was forced to have his dreadlocks cut during a match or risk forfeiting (and is reportedly still being targeted by local officials). But as the Eagle notes, Kansas has faced its own incidences of hair discrimination; for instance, 16-year-old Tyree Bayan of south Kansas City was seeking his first job at Cool Crest Family Fun Center, an arcade in the ironically-named nearby Independence, Mo., but said his interviewer told him he wouldn’t be allowed to have dreadlocks. Notably, Cool Crest’s company policy only outlined a policy on hair length, not type.
Despite seeming to be a clear cut case of discrimination, like many states, hair isn’t currently included in Kansas anti-discrimination laws, meaning employers may fire or decline to hire people if they take issue with their hairstyles—even hairstyles that are culturally specific, like dreadlocks.
“We are seeing more cases of discrimination based on natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces—and under current Kansas statute, this type of discrimination is totally legal,” said Amber Sellers of Kansas City-based black women’s advocacy group Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet (named for Shirley Chisholm), one of several black women consulted by Faust-Goudeau in the formation of what is now known as Senate Bill 250. As the Wichita Eagle notes, the bill is similar to those recently presented in California, New York, and New Jersey, and is in line with the Dove-sponsored CROWN Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”) recently presented by Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and colleagues to push anti-hair discrimination nationwide.
“I just think it’s totally unfair that we have to change our God-given look and hair that braids, natural hair,” said Faust-Goudeau. “From the top of your head, you’ve got to change the way you look to prevent being terminated or excluded from a place of employment or school activities, which is unfair...We want people to feel comfortable in their own natural way in the workplace and in schools and anywhere.”
Corrected: Friday, 1/17/20 at 10:35 a.m. ET: Apologies to our Kansan followers; having never been to the Sunflower State and relying solely on stock imagery results, we originally posted a picture of Kansas City, Mo. to lead this post, in addition to mistakenly attributing the Missouri city of Independence to Kansas. Thanks to our readers, we were alerted to the mistakes; the post has been corrected.