Chair and Members of this Committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today. My name is Aileen Berquist, Community Engagement Manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. We are a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that works to preserve and strengthen the constitutional liberties of everyone in our state.
If you google “professional hair styles,” and view the images, practically all the pictures are of white women or men. Few, if any of the photos feature African American women; none of the photos show African American men’s hairstyles. Hair discrimination is a microaggression African Americans experience in school1, in businesses2, and in other social groups. This discrimination is why the ACLU of Kansas supports the passage of SB 130.
African American girls experience hair discrimination in school as early as five years old3. By age 12, 100% of African American girls have faced some sort of hair discrimination in schools4. Black students are much more likely to be disciplined for dress code violations relating to hair, leading to the forced removal of the locs5, suspension6, or even expulsion7. This issue even hit Kansas in 2020, when a number of Black college students reported being disciplined because of their hair. These stories are pervasive, and are matters of when, not if, for African Americans.
African Americans continue to experience this type of discrimination in the workplace: 80% of African American women felt like they had to change their hair style for their job or workplace8. People are turned away from interviews9 or sent home10 when their hair does not comfortably comport with white cultural standards. African Americans are told their natural hair is dirty, unprofessional, and unfit for the workforce, so their solution is often to change their hair to conform with Eurocentric preferences.11
Conforming to unnatural hairstyles has a physical and mental impact on many African Americans.
Many African American women go through the painful process of applying “relaxers” to their hair – a harsh chemical that straightens curls12. This procedure must be done repeatedly to achieve a Eurocentric look. Men have to keep their locs short not only to look professional, but to avoid harassment and racial profiling from the police13. Many African Americans feel this pressure to conform which leads to increased anxiety and additional financial burdens in caring for their hair14.
This bill is important because it shows that racism of any kind will not be tolerated. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has race as a protected class, appearance is not listed as a protected class, leading to the pervasive discrimination against African American culture and styles that are expressed through their hair15. This bill will close the gap and show Kansans that their rights are protected.
No person should lose their job or be sent home from school for how they wear their hair. Hair discrimination clearly has no basis in job or academic performance. We strongly urge the passage of SB 130 favorably out of committee. Thank you for the opportunity to share testimony today.