TEMPE, Ariz. — It's probably not something you'd expect to happen, especially if it hasn't happened to you.
A study released this year found over 20% of Black women in their 20s and 30s across the United States have been sent home from work because of their hair, and 20 states already have laws protecting race-based natural and protective hairstyles.
On Friday, Governor Katie Hobbs signed an executive order safeguarding natural and protective hairstyles from discrimination. For many in the Valley, the news is a welcomed relief.
“I think that you know that freedom is, yeah, liberation to wear your hair however you want, but also to that just liberation emotionally and mentally to be,” Essence Farmer, Founder of Rare Essence Studio in Tempe.
Nationally, this type of law is called the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. Tempe and Tucson both have ordinances protecting against that kind of discrimination in workplaces and other public settings. Friday's signing makes Arizona the 21st state in the U.S. to protect against hair discrimination.
While Farmer says she hasn’t experienced discrimination because of her hair, she has had other experiences.
“I have experienced unwanted touches, you know, into my personal space touching my hair without asking, you know, those are some things that I definitely have experienced that I felt were unacceptable,” Farmer said.
Adelaide Goode, who owns Rare Essence Studio now, also has had experiences surrounding her hair.
“There’ll be comments of like, ‘Can you just tone your hair down?’” Goode said.
They both see the confirmation that Hobbs will protect their hairstyles and clients as an important step.
“I think it’s amazing,” Farmer said. “Because for so long Black women have not been able to wear their natural hair without just fear of how they were going to be treated at work, especially in corporate settings.”
Rare Essence Studio client Ashlie Thompson sees it as an essential protection for her and her children.
“Being able to have that freedom and continue that freedom is I'm sure very important to my children, will be important to my children, but it's also important to me,” Thompson said.
Farmer opened the original studio in 2006, two years after she fought with the Institute for Justice to change an Arizona law requiring natural hair stylists to attend cosmetology school. That helped open the door for other stylists to have their businesses legitimized within Arizona law.
“That validation to say that you – just who you are, how you are – is acceptable, and it’s celebrated,” Farmer said.
Now, hoping this executive order will help Arizonans celebrate their authenticity over expectations.
“How well you work at your job should be a factor, not how you put some box braids in or wear your curls or whatever it is,” Goode said. “That should not impede your ability to provide for your family.”
Beyond the order being signed Friday, they also hope it will mean more freedom for future generations.
“I’m happy that there are, you know, younger people able to see that their hair is not a threat; that is really an invitation to our culture and our creativity,” Goode said.
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