SACRAMENTO – Like many other Black women, Holly Mitchell has had to stop White colleagues from attempts to touch her hair and has had to school them on numerous occasions on the “wonders” of its texture.
The auburn loc’ed senator is now trying to educate on a statewide level with her bill, SB 188: The Crown Act. The bill, which seeks to protect natural hairstyles in the workplace, passed its first hurdle this week, making it past the Judiciary Committee. Senator Mitchell spoke Monday during a Women’s History Month event Monday, hosted by the Sacramento chapter of the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC) and the Sacramento Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women.
“When I saw case after case of Black women losing court battles with regard to employment status and our natural hair, I took notice,” Senator Mitchell shared.
“We have the responsibility to legislate and appropriate, so I’m not going to walk away from my power. If something ought to be the law, let’s introduce a bill to change the law,” she continued.
SB 188 seeks to amend a section of current government code that relates to discrimination in California and seeks to change “societal understanding of professionalism” that is “closely linked to European features and mannerisms.”
An excerpt from the bill reads, “Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals. Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.
Senator Mitchell says the proposed legislation is in line with her overall commitment to changing public policy to improve the plight of underrepresented communities.
“We’re going to take a stand and say, as I did when I was a candidate for the Assembly in 2010 with my locs, that I know that the residents of the Assembly district then would be casting their vote for me and have a sense of confidence in me based on what was inside my head, not how I chose to wear my hair.
“I decided to loc at 40. I was the CEO of the organization, so I thought about it, but I knew quite frankly I was at the top of my game currently in my career and that it was ‘safe’ for me to loc my hair and that I was also going to send a message to the young women who worked for me and saw me as a role me. To run for office, I had the same commitment.”
Senator Mitchell pointed to the case of a Black student athlete in New Jersey, who was forced in January by a White official to cut his locs in order to compete in a wrestling match.
“All my colleagues saw that, so what an opportunity we had to introduce this bill to add natural hair to the protected class in the employment law. We’re going to amend the bill to include it in education policy so students will also be protected.
“This is an opportunity for us to educate our colleagues about what it means to a Black woman to have the competency and freedom to wear our hair in whatever state we choose, whether it be straight, braided, loced, or bald,” she said.
Senator Mitchell says there’s already “concern” from non-Blacks at the Capitol, but she remains solidly rooted.
“We’re going to stand proud in Committee tomorrow, in the Judiciary Committee, to educate all those within the sound of our voice about the pride with which we as Black women are at a station in life, a moment in time where we are going to stand firm in our personal choice of how we choose to wear our hair and if I choose to wear my hair in its natural state, that has no bearing on my ability to do a job and do it well,” she shared.
While that seems and sounds logical, Senator Mitchell says getting the bill passed will be an “uphill battle.” She says the bill and garnering support for it are an opportunity for Black women to unite around a matter of choice.
“I hope that you all watch, follow and reach out to every Black woman and girl and talk about why this bill is for all of us, why it’s important and it’s a fundamental right that we have to protect our hair. As we talk about the Crown Act, we know that you are all queens and we hope that this bill will allow you, whatever your workplace, to wear the crown of your choice.”
In keeping with Women’s History Month, BAPAC Sacramento President Rory Kaufman compared Senator Mitchell to other powerhouse Black female leaders such as Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee.
She’s the budget chair in the state of California; 33 million people,” Kaufman said of Senator Mitchell.
“She takes 40 people in the Senate, who don’t look like us, and tries to make them have compassion and respect us. This lady has stood when no one else would stand with her. For this lady we will stand, for this lady we will fight. For this lady, when she says “Where you at? We’re right there with her.”
The “Crown Event” also featured a short film by BAPAC Sacramento First Vice President Debora Richardson Brewster on the power of women in the political arena and a fashion show local Black artist Gerry “GOS” Simpson, that showcased his denim fashions and models with natural hairstyles.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer