Tearing One’s Hair Cut

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Puerto Rico last week launched a public debate on a proposed law to explicitly ban discrimination against hairstyles such as Afros and cornrows, causing tense discussions on the racially diverse island, a US territory, the Associated Press reported.

More than half of the 3.2 million Puerto Ricans identify as mixed-raced, and the US census reported 230,000 people identifying as Black.

At a highly attended hearing at San Juan’s Capitol building, Afro-Caribbean advocates of the bill recounted instances where they faced discrimination because of their hair. One explained she had to refuse a job offer that was given to her on the condition that she lose her locks. Another said her child could not attend school until he cut his hair.

Meanwhile, local government officials opposed the bill, saying it was an unnecessary repeat of existing federal and Puerto Rican legal frameworks prohibiting discrimination, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Nonetheless, limits to Title VII were set by a 2016 US Court of Appeal ruling that an Alabama employer’s no-locks policy did not violate it.

At the same hearing, Puerto Rico Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, who co-authored the bill, asked, “What is the problem with adding explicit protection?” Other proponents including renowned author Mayra Santos-Febres said the bill would “create a protocol” and close a legal vacuum over certain hairstyles such as braids, locks, and Bantu knots.

Texas last September implemented a similar measure. However, a Black high school student has faced suspension for wearing locks in Mont Belvieu, even after the law was passed.

Texas is part of a group of 24 states that have aligned with the CROWN Act – short for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” – banning hairstyle discrimination in cases including employment, housing, and education.

An attempt to pass a federal version of the act failed in the Senate in 2022.

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