Legislation to Ban Black Hair Discrimination in Illinois Schools Passes State House


Illustration for article titled Legislation to Ban Black Hair Discrimination in Illinois Schools Passes State House
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The state of Illinois is about an inch away from adopting a new law that would prohibit schools from discriminating against Black hair. The bill is currently on its way back to the state Senate so that lawmakers can vote on an amendment to name it for the Black 4-year-old who prompted its proposal after he was sent home from school because his braids violated the school’s dress code.

Fox Illinois reports that Senate Bill 817 protects the rights of students to wear hairstyles that are “historically associated with race, ethnicity or hair texture including braids, dreadlocks, and twists.”

The legislation passed the state House on Thursday with an 89-22 vote after passing the state Senate with a 40-13 vote on Wednesday. The bill is expected to head to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk to be signed into law after it goes back to the Senate so lawmakers can vote on an amendment to name it the “Jett Hawkins Law” after 4-year-old Jett Hawkins who was sent home from Providence St. Mel School—a predominately Black private school for boys in the West Side neighborhood of Chicago—earlier this month over his hair.

According to Belleville News-Democrat, Jett’s mother, Ida Nelson—who brought her son’s story to the attention of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago)—spoke during a committee hearing on Tuesday on the discriminatory policies of schools that keep pushing the narrative that certain hairstyles (specifically the Black ones) somehow distract other students from learning and how those policies affect Black children.

“These policies skew their perception of self and create a feeling of something about them needing to be fixed,” Nelson said. “That is not a good message to send to young, impressionable children, and it is up to all of us adults to protect children, regardless of their phenotype, from any threat to their mental or emotional well-being.”

Of course, some lawmakers opposed the legislation, and I’m not saying they were probably Republicans, but...they were probably Republicans.

From the News-Democrat:

Opponents of the bill raised concerns that it would affect private and military schools, which often have uniform dress code and hairstyle requirements in place.

Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, pushed back on that criticism, saying children should be made to feel comfortable regardless of their school.

Ford said the bill is about “treating people right, respecting people, allowing people to be who they want to be.”

“(Hair) gives you confidence, it gives you strength, it gives you power, and to force someone that believes in what gives them power to cut it off is bad,” he said.

Rep. Cyril Nichols, D-Chicago, said hair is important to freedom of expression, and should have no impact on a student’s performance in school activities.

“A person wearing their hair is not going to affect anybody learning what two plus two is,” Nichols said. “This allows people to be free, allows people to live their life in a way they want to, private or not.”

It’s wild that in 2021 there are still school administrators who feel so uncomfortable at the sight of braids, afros and locs that legislation like this is still necessary. These hairstyles are a distraction from what? Racism?

Let Black kids and their glorious hair live, people. They shouldn’t have to shrink themselves or their hairstyles in order to receive an education.

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