Articles, Culture

Locers are Fighting for (& Winning) Equal Rights

whennah andrews

The world has regressed in many ways. However, there people who are always stirring up change in the fight for equal rights – like Chasity Jones. I remember reading that the Supreme Court declined to review Chastity Jone’s case. Therefore, it upheld a US Circuit judge ruling that it was legal to discriminate against hair styles as it wasn’t a “protected class.” Of course we know that ignores the fact that POC are the ones disproportionately affected by these types of rulings. But, this article isn’t about the rulings with the unintended and/or purposeful consequences of holding us back, but instead about the people and actions that are pushing us forward. 

black outline of a women wearing a golden crown. text below states the crown act & text below that states creating a respectful and open world for natural hair
Image from Good Black News

1. The Crown Act: Locs Rights in the Workplace

It is legal in most states for employers discriminate against those with locs. However, the CROWN (Creating a Respectful Open Workplace for Natural hair) Act disallows discrimination of natural styles (cornrows, twists, twist-outs, locs, etc) in the workplace. Moreover, in some places the Act disallows hair discrimination is the educational environment as well.  

California State Senator, Holly Mitchell, drafted the CROWN Act. This State Senator is a locd woman herself and worked to push forward and rally support for this bill that prohibits discrimination based on hair texture. She was inspired primarily by three experiences.

  1. The first was her own experience as a woman with locs for at least 15 years, and being natural 5 years prior to that.
  2. Another experience was a National Black Caucus conference. There she met a Dove senior executive who was encouraging work on legislation regarding hair equality/rights.
  3. The third experience was reading and seeing the experience of a New Jersey teen wrestler. He was targeted by a high school referee who made the teen cut his locs in order to avoid forfeiting a match.

All of Michell’s efforts resulted in California being the first state to pass the CROWN Act and sparking more states to follow. Moreover, national legislation is being considered. This is what is truly needed for equal rights for locers in the workplace and learning environment. 

Kaden Bradford and Deandre Arnold
Kaden Bradford and DeAndre Arnold pictured. Image from INSIDER



2. The Right to Learn with Locs

Kaden Bradford, a Texas school teen, was suspended after refusing to comply with a racist grooming code that required him to cut his locs. His cousin, DeAndre Arnold, transferred schools in order to be able to walk at graduation since his locs were deemed out of compliance as well. Once confronted by the impact of this policy, Barber School board of trustees of the district had the opportunity to change the code, but instead unanimously decided to continue with their discriminatory policy.

However, Kaden and his mother, Cindy Bradford, were not discouraged. Instead, they filed a suit (Arnold et al v. Barbers Hill Independent School District et al) against the district. While the case is not over yet, they have won an injunction allowing Kaden to return to the school district he has been in his whole life – with his friends and classmates – and continue his education. 

First Lieutenant Whennah Andrews in army uniform with profile of face showing. She fought for the equality of locers in the army
First Lieutenant Whennah Andrews. Image from Vogue

3. Loc Wearers Fight for Their Rights to Serve

Each branch of the military has their own guidelines and regulations. As such, women in different branches of military have fought for the right to be able to serve with locs.

 

  • Coast Guard:

    The Coast Guard was the first military branch to change. LCDR Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D led this change in 2013 and talks about in her article here. On April 14, 2014 a memo was released* allowing locs for women. Then in the May 2016 edition of the uniform addition, verbiage banning dreadlocks for women was removed. 
  • Marines:

    Marine Staff Sgt. Cherie Wright championed efforts to include locs as an accepted hairstyle. As a result of her work, the Marine Corps Uniform Board 215 was updated on December 14, 2015 to allow locs. 
  • Army:

    An army Lieutenant, Whennah Andrews, and YouTuber Nikky Nwamokobia, teamed up to create this video as part of submitted reasoning in order to petition ban on locs. The request worked, and on May 25, 2017, the Wear and Appearance guidelines were updated to allow dreadlocks.
  • Air Force:

     The Air Force lifted its ban on locd women and the change was published in the July 13, 2018 guidance memorandum
  • Navy:

    Petty Officer 1st Class Jacqualynn Leak was vital in getting the Navy to reverse their ban on locs. She enlisted the help of army Lieutenant Andrews as well in order to emulate her success. Subsequently, a video was created in collaboration with YouTuber Nikky to help the case for uplifting the ban and all their work paid off. The changes became effective July 18, 2018. 
  • Space Force:

    The work by women in other military branches for hair equality paved the way for the Space Force. The newest military branch, also allows locs for women service members as noted in its July 2, 2020 memorandum

Thank you for reading. I hope you not only learned something, but were inspired by those fighting for equal rights. Your voice matters (and so does your vote – so make sure to do that!). Remember – getting to the finish line isn’t a straight line. Think of the Chasity Jones case to remember that. Not many of us would think a case we may file would make it all the way to the Supreme Court. Moreover, that after a defeat, that more people join the fight to prevent that kind of injustice. 

 

*The only text reference to this memo I could find online is here. It references the Coast Guard message ALCGPSC 056/14 SUBJ: UPDATED FEMALE GROOMING STANDARDS. However, access to historical messages is limited. 

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