California’s cool with my nappy hair. How about you, Chicago?

Last week California’s governor banned discrimination against black people who wear natural styles such as afros, cornrows, braids, twists and locs in workplaces and schools.

SHARE California’s cool with my nappy hair. How about you, Chicago?
Laura Washington in 2003.

Since her days as Mayor Harold Washington’s deputy press secretary, Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington writes, she has proudly worn her hair in a natural look — not pressed and straightened. She is photographed here in 2003.

Jim Frost/Sun-Times

My nappy hair has been vindicated.

As a young woman, I spent many painful years burning, frying and hiding my follicles in shame.

I know now that my naps are beautiful, the ultimate statement of my proud African historic heritage. I went natural decades ago and let my kinks be my kinks.

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Yet, nearly 20 years into the 21st century, black folks cannot enjoy the hair our DNA gave us without enduring discrimination and disrespect. The white power structure has deemed our follicles substandard, “bad” hair for far too long.

Now comes a new California law that tells employers: disrespect my hair, and you’ll pay.

Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom signed The Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair).

It bans discrimination against black people who wear natural styles such as afros, cornrows, braids, twists and locs in workplaces and schools.

The measure, the first of its kind in the nation, was sponsored by state Sen. Holly Mitchell. The Los Angeles legislator sports golden, curly locs.

“We are changing the course of history, hopefully, across this country by acknowledging that what has been defined as professional hair styles and attire in the workplace has historically been based on a Euro-centric model — based on straight hair,” Mitchell told the Associated Press.

The law reads: “The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair, to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.”

Black folks have been expected to conform to “Eurocentric norms” and forced to “alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” according to the measure.

For centuries, we have been forced to deny our nature. We have been told that “black hair” is “bad hair.”

To get ahead, we must cut our locs and braids, fry our follicles with hot irons and burn them with lye to be “accepted” in the working world.

Back in the day, while serving as deputy press secretary for Chicago’s first black mayor, I decided to give my cornrows a rest. I stepped into the mayor’s office one Monday morning with my hair pressed, styled — and straight.

My colleagues bombarded me with “compliments.”

“Oooh, it looks so nice.”

“You should wear your hair like that all the time.”

“That hairstyle is so much better.”

Translation: Natural hair is a no-no.

I couldn’t wait to get my back into my natural look. I have been there ever since.

But there’s a cost. I know there are job interviews I didn’t get, professional opportunities that passed me by, because I didn’t have the “right” look. The “white” look.

Patrice Weatherly Jackson knows. I spend hours in her chair as the Chicago-based stylist masterfully twists and weaves my juicy locs into a work of art.

Her clients say that “the expectations of what is considered a professional look are not natural curly hair or locs,” she told me the other day.

They face “pressure to have straight hair for women or short cuts for men.”

Many “believe that they are often passed over for promotions due to the choice of natural hairstyles,” Jackson noted. “So, they have chosen to just go with what’s expected, rather than wear what’s more comfortable for them.”

California got it right. The rest of the nation should follow suit.

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