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Virginia has been crowned

By Kenya Smith

I was very pleased to learn that the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act, which is known as the CROWN Act, is now a law in Virginia.

This means that discrimination against individuals who wear hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists, bantu knots and dreadlocks is now forbidden. Virginia is the fourth state to pass the CROWN Act, following California, New York and New Jersey.

Not only will the law ban hair discrimination in the workplace, it will also ban discrimination in educational institutions. I considered this a victory, because there has been a lot of pressure among African American men, women and youth when it comes to wearing styles that signify our heritage.

When we look on the news and on social media, we see a lot of stories regarding black employees or black students who were reprimanded for wearing their hair a certain way, because the styles were labeled as “unprofessional,” “distracting” or “ghetto.” However, there’s a double standard, as these same hairstyles are viewed as stylish and glamourous when a non-black person wears them. For example, cornrows are considered “ghetto” if a black person wears them. However, they are called “boxer braids” when Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian wears them.

In 1971, Melba Toliver, a former news anchor was fired from WABC-TV for refusing to cover up her afro in order to cover the wedding of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia. In 1999, tennis great Venus Williams was penalized after some of her beads unraveled during the Australian Open despite not being warned or penalized in previous matches. In 2015, when actress Zendaya sported dreadlocks on the red carpet during the Oscars, an entertainment reporter said that Zendaya probably smelled “like patchouli oil.”  Last year, a 10-year-old girl in Chesapeake was singled out by the referee because she wore braids with blue weave during a basketball game. A video showing a referee at a New Jersey high school cutting off a black wrestler’s dreads in front of the entire school during a match caused controversy, and due to the public outrage, she was fired from her job. Texas teen De’Andre Arnold was given an ultimatum from his high school to either get rid of his dreadlocks or give up the opportunity to walk at graduation. Following this, Arnold received a lot of support and was even invited to the Oscars.

Many black people have even experienced pressure from their own families when it comes to wearing their hair natural.

Beauty and professionalism should not be based solely on Eurocentric standards. Black people should be able to work and learn without being forced to change certain physical features. Thanks to this bill, men, women and children will have a peace of mind knowing that they will be protected. Good hair is healthy hair regardless of texture, length, color or styling method. I am so thankful that the commonwealth has been crowned.

Kenya Smith is a Suffolk native. Email her at s.kenya43@yahoo.com.