C’mon Kansas! Will the Sunflower State Be the Next to Ban Hair Discrimination? [Corrected]

Illustration for article titled C’mon Kansas! Will the Sunflower State Be the Next to Ban Hair Discrimination? [Corrected]
Photo: Shutterstock

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.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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I’m glad that at least some parts of this country are removing their heads from their asses.

In a not-so-related story surrounding hair and race-based privilege, I, a white, male 26-year old at the time, once applied for a job at a lumber company. The manager who interviewed me saw this kid with straight, dirty-blonde hair down to approximately my ass, with a weird little goatee and mustache, looking like a total pot-loving (despite the fact that I wouldn’t first partake for another 5 years) metalhead and thought he wouldn’t hire me (I hesitate to say he was wrong, because going JUST by appearances, I wouldn’t have been the best candidate for a good union job).

HIS manager, the branch’s District Manager, was a total idiot who walked around humming/badly singing rock and metal songs, probably drank too much at the time (and continued to DEFINITELY drink too much, sometimes at work - and is still in a high position in the company, if you want another taste of white male privilege), and was thoroughly incapable of decent work or intelligent reasoning. He saw me and probably thought “Eh, this guy looks cool, maybe he’ll want to start a rock band!”, so he used his influence and power to get me hired.

Now, I WAS a good worker, and the manager liked me so much that after quitting, moving away for over 6 years and then moving back, he hired me back right away. Fortunately for me, the idiot DM was probably disappointed that I wasn’t the addle-brained moron he pegged me for, but I’m still glad he mistakenly gave me a chance.

I could’ve been the most well-dressed, professional-looking black person anyone in the place had ever seen, and I can’t ever believe I would’ve had half the chance of getting the job that I, an unimpressive specimen, was given.

When people say things about race like “It’s just a small thing”, or “it’s ONE job!”, they should really do a little math and realize that this scene, played over millions of times, means that this country STILL has a major problem with race, and it’s the ones in power who need to stop fighting the truth, realize how bad things are, and do some work towards equality and equity, because I currently work for the same company today, and the sheer volume of white male incompetence at the very top (that idiot DM I spoke of messed up badly - I don’t know how many bad mistakes this took, but he screws up all the damn time - and their form of penance and giving him a second chance was putting him in charge of a SECOND branch!!!) is seethingly infuriating.