Georgia state Sen. Tonya Anderson speaks on the Senate floor. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres/Bob Andres

Georgia Democratic lawmaker seeks end to hair discrimination

The incidents almost always make headlines: an adult or child is told their hair is inappropriate for work or school and asked to make a change or leave.

Often that person is black and wearing their hair naturally or in braids or locs.

Legislation filed last week would make it illegal in Georgia for schools or businesses to practice what they’re calling hair-based discrimination.

 “Our hair is an expression of who we are and conforming is almost no longer the norm,” said legislation sponsor state Sen. Tonya Anderson, a Lithonia Democrat.

Senate Bill 286 addresses what is considered “professional” at work, school or when seeking housing and bans the institutions from discriminating based on how hair is styled.

It’s something state Sen. Nikema Williams, an Atlanta Democrat, said she is familiar with. She is working with Anderson on the proposal.

After wearing braids for most of the 2019 legislative session, she removed them and had her natural hair pressed straight when a House member approached her about her different look. Williams declined to say which House member she spoke with. 

“She thought she was complimenting me and told me how much more professional I looked without my braids in,” Williams said. “She told me ‘keep your hair like that, it looks so much better like that.’”

Williams said she told her colleague she was planning to get the braids again, a style that was healthier for her hair.

“This disproportionately affects black women,” she said. “We should not be confined to adjusting to certain norms with our hair just so we can feel comfortable or safe.”

CaliforniaNew York and New Jersey have passed similar legislation. It also has been introduced in Congress as well as several states such as ColoradoTennessee and Florida.

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