Rep. Tammy Phelps Spearheads Bill To End Black Hair Discrimination

Representative Tammy Phelps

The conversation on natural hair in the workforce has been a long one and, some would say, often unfair. While hairstyles, such as the afro, have received attention going all the way to federal court, there are still no federal laws on the books concerning discrimination based on natural hairstyles. Companies still have dress codes that, explicitly or implicitly, forbid such styles.

This is especially unfair since most Black people’s hair does not naturally conform to a Eurocentric hairstyle and must be brushed, straightened, or in some way forced to conform. Some states are beginning to consider laws to deal with this directly, while people like Senator Corey Booker and former Representative, now senior advisor to President Biden, Cedric Richmond, have attempted to tackle it on the federal level.

Eight states have already done this. A California bill called the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, was so well received that several other states passed laws under the same title including New Jersey, Colorado, and Connecticut, with Delaware looking to shortly make that nine.

Louisiana’s 2021 legislative session begins Monday, April 12, 2021. Part of that session will include a discussion concerning HB 189, a bill created by State District 3 Representative Tammy Phelps. With that bill, she hopes to put an end to racial discrimination in the workforce in Louisiana based on “natural hair.” In the digest of the bill, it’s written that it, “Prohibits intentional discrimination in employment in regard to natural hairstyles.”

According to Shreveport state Representative Phelps, it’s time: “Being that at this time only eight states have taken the lead. And I think Louisiana should be on the right side.

“With my knowledge of at least two instances where it’s happened–young people, an African-American young lady and a gentleman–school-aged children, students. And I think it starts there and was a little bit harsh for me.” She adds, “And that really brought it together for me…really looking at how to address that particular issue in Louisiana.”

Phelps is talking about two incidents, one in New Orleans and one in New Jersey. “I couldn’t imagine being the young lady at 11 years old, or the young man who was forced to cut off his dreadlocks–he was 16–in New Jersey. And again, nothing that they did wrong, but they just happened to be African-Americans. They happened to have their natural hairstyles.”

It was a humiliating moment, as sixteen-year-old high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was forced to shave his head. It broke his heart, and before he could complete the match, with the support of his teammates, he cried.

Phelps says of him, “Why at that particular time, at that moment when he made all qualifications just to get to that last round, why was it, it’s either cut or not be able to do the sport that you earned to get there with?”

So, with Phelps’s help, hopefully, the Louisiana version of the CROWN Act will pass. Phelps says, “If we could just remove some of the discriminatory factors, I think, hopefully, Louisiana can be on the right side of history, in that manner to where, again, we’re all just treated the same.”

Paris Tate, a Black woman, is optimistic this will do some good. As far as discrimination goes, she says, “I never experienced it at work (I was fortunate to have an awesome Black supervisor who also rocked her natural hair and was encouraging when I went natural), but I grew up with it at home. Sadly, the black community internalizes a lot of self-hate over black features. I grew up hearing about ‘bad hair’ or ‘no man would date a woman with nappy hair.’ I grew up feeling that wearing my afro-textured hair would make me ugly or judged or that a relaxer was needed and the general idea that African features were undesirable. This is common, especially within the Creole community, and I had to unlearn a lot of thoughts about myself because I didn’t have straight hair, light skin, etc.”

Alex Taylor is a person who considers himself to be of mixed heritage. “I find it ironic,” he says, “that Caucasian people can color their hair or do certain things and it’s fine, but when someone, usually of African descent, has their hair done a certain way, all of a sudden, it’s unprofessional.” As far as the bill goes, he says, “It’s unfortunate you have to make a law for that, but, yeah, you do.”

Tate agrees. “As a black woman, I feel this is long overdue. At the same time, it’s sad that such a bill has to even exist because a person shouldn’t feel worried about losing a job over the way their hair naturally grows from their head. The concept of hair being ‘unprofessional’ should not have ever existed in the first place and it certainly shouldn’t exist in 2021. With that being said, I’m hoping this will also improve the self-image for many blacks as well. From experience, blacks have internalized a lot of beliefs about our Afro-textured hair. I’m seeing more blacks embrace their African features now than when I was a teen and I hope to see this trend continue.”

Representative Phelps even believes she may have bipartisan support for the bill and is optimistic that despite having a Republican House and Senate in Louisiana, it can still pass. Phelps says, “I’m going to be very optimistic about that. I really am. Even though it appears that during this pandemic time, as a state and a nation, it appears that we are still divided.”

Phelps continues, “I’m hoping that my colleagues would just see putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. One from the students and two from an employee. If that employee was actually hired based on their talent, education, or whatever those things were, they’re still that same person, without any discrimination for the natural texture of their hair. We’re not talking about weird coloring or anything, or just something one would say, ‘maybe that’s not appropriate for this place.”

She even hopes with amendments it will apply to schools so that the discrimination can stop in work and in class. “I’m just hoping for something as simple as this–when we think about these examples that I bring forth. Students are on the job and my bill will be amended to cover schools as well.”

The CROWN Act isn’t just about hair or discrimination, according to Phelps. It goes back to a very long history of slavery and being treated as inferior, despite, she says, “The contributions that we’ve made to the building of this nation.

“I think if we look at it as African Americans are just as smart, we’re just as capable. No one is above anyone, but because of that mindset, I think there’s been resistance from my white counterparts.

“And I think that’s been generational. Unfortunately, at this time, I think we’re headed back to that same struggle of being respected as people. And biblically, I always say, at the end of the day, God made us all.”

In the end, Phelps sees this as one piece of a larger puzzle, but one that could make a difference. “I often think about what would Martin Luther King be thinking at this time?  I hope we’re not going backward, but I think we have a lot more room to go forward with just respecting one’s differences in the color of the skin that we have no choice of, and that doesn’t make us any better than, or less than, anyone else.  And, just embracing our differences, because, at the end of the day, we all have cultural differences of whom and where we come from. I don’t have the answer to why it seems to be that one race is afforded not much consideration or respect at all.”

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *