Colorado became the fifth state to pass legislation outright banning hair discrimination Friday, but in many places people of color, including children, are still being discriminated against because of their hair. Louisiana high school cheerleader Asia Simo was kicked off of her school's cheerleading team after serving for captain for three years because her hair is too thick for a "half up, half down" style the team frequently uses, according to CNN. “(Asia's school wasn't) sensitive enough to the fact that everyone's hair doesn't automatically transform to be put in a particular style," her mother, Rosalind Calloway, told the news network. "It wasn't a style that was accommodating for all of the girls."
Tehia Glass, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, told CNN in school administration it’s easier to pretend there is no bias than there is to go about understanding and addressing it, but it’s the students who suffer for their educators’ ignorance. "They're going to look around and not know how to deal with something that they're not used to," Glass said. "And in some cases, that could translate into someone trying to restrict wearing a hijab, or not hiring someone who wears dreadlocks because you've been told that's wrong."
Texas high school senior DeAndre Arnold was told he couldn't walk in his class graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks, and 11-year-old Colorado cheerleader Niemah was told she couldn't compete unless she wore a fake ponytail to look like her white and Latina peers. In both situations, the authorities explained away their punishments as simple adherence to policies in effect.
At least in Niemah’s case, that reasoning likely will no longer hold up. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he signed Senate legislation identical to a House bill banning hair discrimination, and the very next day Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed his state’s version of the CROWN Act into law. California started the legislative wave, becoming the first state to pass the legislation which uses an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair in June of last year. New York and New Jersey later followed suit.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, told CNN in the absence of such laws discriminatory school policies can negatively impact all students because they rely on arbitrary definitions of what is considered normal. "'Normal' looked like a white child's hair, and everything else is not normal," García told the news network. By labeling some as abnormal officials are opening children up to potentially be bullied for being different. "It really is an attack on the culture that these children bring into their schools," Garcia told CNN. "You're saying the way you and your family dress, the way you and your family ... wear your hair, is wrong."
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