Local Lawmakers Are Working on a Bill That Could End Hair Discrimination in Iowa

Honoring Black History

DES MOINES, Iowa — For years, hair that was not sleek or straight was considered unprofessional, which forced many black men and women to use damaging chemicals on their hair in order to fit into that stereotypical hair type.

But now local lawmakers are working on a bill that would embrace all-natural hair types and provide training to make workplaces more inclusive.

The Crown Act bill — which stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair —would prohibit race-based hair discrimination.

Currently the Crown Act is law in seven of the 50 states, and Representative Ruth Ann Gaines believes Iowa will become the eighth.

“It’s long overdue,” Gaines said. “People have been wearing Afro since the 60s. Come on now.”

The Crown Act bill has been filed in Iowa and has been sent to a subcommittee in the house where it will be voted on. Representative Gaines said if approved, the bill will apply to school districts, housing, public accommodation and many others.

Like many, Representative Gaines believes a law like this is needed in Iowa.

“We are such a minority (Black Americans) and number in this state,” Gaines said. “We often feel extremely inhibited from expressing ourselves.”

Des Moines cosmetologist, Lauren Oliver Bundy, has been doing natural hair for over a decade in central Iowa. Before Bundy received her license to do hair, she knew little about the natural hair community.

Bundy said that growing up her mom would straighten her hair because it was easier to maintain. However, in 2004, the summer before she started college, Bundy decided to start her natural hair journey. She did what is known as the “big chop.”

“A big chop is when you cut off any and all process of your hair,” Bundy said. “So that could texturized, color, relaxer, keratin treatment, anything that is not naturally grown from your hair.”

This was just the start of Bundy’s hair transition. The Des Moines native said she fell in love with her curls and eventually specialized in styling natural hair for others.

Bundy said she sees the issues Black Iowans have with their natural hair in the workplace firsthand.

“For my clients who have corporate jobs, they are worried that their hair isn’t necessarily considered professional,” Bundy said.

According to the Dove research study, 80 percent of black women are more likely to change their natural hair state to fit in an office setting.

“There are some women who will take their braids out, or they will get their hair straighten for a job interview,” Bundy said. “We still have bills. We still have lives. And you know, we still have families to take care of.”

Bundy said that here in Iowa, sometimes Black Americans have to choose between their hair and their income.

Drake graduate, Jabari Butler, said he was told his hair would be a problem when he started searching for employment.

“I had conversations with family members like you might have to cut your hair, you know, working in corporate America,” Butler said.

And like Butler’s family warned, his hair did make his job search difficult.

“A lot of different interviews you see my resume and you see a lot of different things, accolades and stuff like that,” Butler said. “And if you see me in the interview, it’s kind of like a shock.”

After many interviews, Butler was able to secure a job with his dreadlocks. However, Representative Gaines, Bundy and Butler are all hoping that with this bill, future generations will not have to face the same kind of hair discrimination.

Bundy said that her daughter, Jordin’s hair has never been relaxed, and she intends on keeping the ten year olds hair in natural styles.

“It was important for me to raise her up natural because I wanted her to know she’s beautiful as she is,” Bundy said. “I wanted her to know, no matter at what age or whenever she goes, realize how strong her hair is, how beautiful it is.”

“It’s 2021,” Representative Gaines said. “Let’s allow individuals to express themselves according to their own cultural standards – without trying to stand in their way.”

For Iowans in favor of the Crown Act bill, Representative Gaines is encouraging people not to just contact their local lawmakers, but to also virtually participate in the subcommittee, in which the bill will be debated on.

If approved, this bill could go into effect as soon as July 1, 2020.

The black women of WHO-13 sat down to discuss their own experiences with their hair in the workplace. Check out what they had to say here.

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