Racial discrimination based on hairstyles continues to be a problem for many people of color. Here in Massachusetts, there is no law making it illegal.
But now, through the experiences of two former Massachusetts high school students, this discrimination could be a thing of the past.
“What would it mean to both of you to have this hair discrimination bill become law in Massachusetts?” Amaka Ubaka asked.
“It would mean no one else would have to go through what we went through,” said Mya, a former high school student who was discriminated against because of her hair.
Twin sisters, Mya and Deanna, are 20 now.
Back when they were 15, they made news when they objected to their high school’s dress code, which they thought was racist.
“I felt very vulnerable going to school every day,” Deanna said.
School officials said the sisters’ braided extensions violated school rules.
Mya and Deanna thought they were being judged more for their heritage than their homework and they refused to change their hair.
“We weren’t going to listen to a rule we knew in our hearts wasn’t fair and not just,” Mya said.
As punishment, they say they were given repeated detentions and banned from the track team and the prom.
“The dean of students would come by our class and hand-deliver us a detention letter in front of everybody every single day,” Deanna said.
Their battle made headlines across the country and caught the attention of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who told the school to stop the policy.
The girls kept their braids and the punishments were dropped.
State Representative Steve Ultrino wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again in Massachusetts, in the classroom, or on the job.
“I can’t imagine what these two young girls went through at the time,” Ultrino said.
He’s sponsoring a bill to make race-based hair discrimination illegal.
It’s known as the Crown Act, but right now, it’s law in only 14 states.
“Why do you care about this issue as it pertains to black girls and hair discrimination?” asked Amaka Ubaka.
“If someone in my district is being affected whether it’s their hair, a disability, their income, who they marry, who they love, I’m going to fight for them,” Ultrino said.
The sisters who wouldn’t change their hair are now helping change the law.
“We want to get this bill passed so that it’s illegal to discriminate against hair in any public setting,” Deanna said.
“There wouldn’t be as much pressure and anxiety to fit into a certain style just so you can exist freely without being punished or discriminated against,” Mya said.
If you find yourself being discriminated against because of your hair you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
As for the bill, it still needs to be voted on in the Massachusetts House and Senate, but Ultrino is hopeful it will become law this year.
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