Fighting hair discrimination in Florida, lawmakers work to pass legislation

Black women and men share their experiences wearing natural hair in the workplace

ORLANDO, Fla. – Black women in Central Florida are opening up about an issue spanning generations.

Hair discrimination has stripped thousands of people of employment opportunities and some people say it has caused them to have an identity crisis.

Shakakan Stamper is a local locktician and owner of a company called Shakakan Hair.

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Stamper spent several years working in corporate America, where she did not feel comfortable wearing her natural hair.

To feel accepted, she decided to wear her hair straight rather than in its natural state.

“Love the weaves, loved wearing them at the time but I wore them not because I wanted to, but I wore them because I felt like I had to,” Stamper said.

She is not the only Black woman who feels this way.

“If we look at what the American standard of beauty is, it’s not Black hair,” said Stamper’s client, Claire Truth.

Truth straightened her hair growing up, but after stepping away from societal norms, Truth said she felt liberated.

“I feel absolutely beautiful in locs, it was the best decision I could have ever made,” Truth said.

In some workplaces, curly hair or protective hairstyles like braids, locs, twists and knots are deemed unprofessional.

Orlena Nwokah Blanchard is the president and chief operating officer of Joy Collective.

It’s an organization that supports Dove and the Crown Coalition in its endeavors to stop hair discrimination in workplaces and schools.

Together, these organizations created The Crown Act. It stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

It’s a law that provides legal recourse to people who have been discriminated against for their natural hair or protective hairstyles, which Blanchard says disproportionately impacts Black people.

She also attributes hair discrimination to centuries of conditioning.

“What is it that makes people perceive that it’s unprofessional? It’s the conditioning and the stereotypes and the negative stereotypes that there is something less than about Blackness,” she said.

Stamper said the definition of professional hair is subjective.

“I don’t think there’s a definition of that, I think society has defined it,” she said.

Research from Dove shows a Black woman is 80% more likely to change her hair to meet social expectations at work.

Black women are also 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.

“It should be your choice, not the choice of who you’re around or what job you have,” Stamper said.

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Women are not the only ones faced with race-based hair discrimination.

Jean Direus is a veteran and former firefighter. Direus said he has 13 years of experience. After years of waiting, he found the perfect opportunity for himself and his family in Orlando.

Direus said after accepting a job as a firefighter locally, his offer was rescinded days later.

“It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating like something so small, I even offered to cut my hair,” he said.

He tells News 6 on his first day his badge was taken and he was escorted off the premises after being told about the “No Locs Policy.”

“I’m raising a son with locs as well and I don’t want him to feel he cannot grow up to be who he is or what he wants to be or other people aren’t going to like his hair so he’s going to lose out on opportunities,” Direus said.

“We have been dealing with an antiquated idea of professionalism, that’s based on eurocentric ideals and it’s important that we work towards updating this outdated definition of what it means to be professional,” Rep. Kamia Brown (D-Ocoee) said.

In Florida, The Crown Act is not law. In 2020, Sen. Randolph Bracy tried to pass the bill, but it died.

Now, Rep. Kamia Brown is working to pass a companion bill this year.

So far, The Crown Act is law in seven states including California, New York, Colorado, Washington, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

Dove and the Crown Coalition worked with Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell in California to introduce the first Crown Act in 2019.

As Blanchard continues to push for The Crown Act nationwide, she encourages Black people to stand firm in who they are.

“Do not feel that you have to leave your Blackness at the door, do not feel like you need to compromise your identity to have equal opportunity in this country,” she said.

About the Author:

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.