THIS WEEK: Protect dark hair

Culturally sensitive protections will take effect to protect hairstyles in Illinois schools

MOLINE, ill – Four-year-old Jett Hawkins, of Chicago, probably didn’t get it when his hairstyle violated preschool policies and he needed to change it to stay in class.

“For us, it’s more than hair,” she said.

“Our hair is an extension of who we are as a race and is deeply linked to our cultural identity.”

And you can bet Jett probably didn’t know the significance of the bill signed by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, which bears his name: the Jett Hawkins Act.

But many others do.

“Jett, I was looking forward to meeting you,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said at the bill signing ceremony.

“And at the age of 4 you are now changing the world and I’m so proud of you.”

As of January 1, 2022, Illinois considers it a human rights violation to discriminate against people because of their hairstyle in school.

The bill prohibits school uniform and dress code policies from restricting hairstyles that have been historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture. This can include, but is not limited to, braids, locks, and twists.

“I’m sorry for the pain that brought us here,” Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said shortly before he enacted the Jett Hawkins law.

It was sponsored by the Illinois Democratic State Senator Mike Simmons from Chicago.

“As the son of an African-American mother and an Ethiopian refugee father, my hair symbolizes the complexity of who I am.”

“We can no longer uphold such stinging injustices.”

For Jett, that meant that a private school believed her braids violated her dress code.

“I was more shocked than a school that has a 100% African American population in that its students are not race sensitive and tolerant,” her mother Ida said in an interview on “News 8” THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens “.

For years, school districts have included restrictions on hairstyles saying they can distract other students in the class.

“I think if you are so easily distracted, the problem is with you, it comes from a place of ignorance and intolerance,” Nelson said.

You can listen to our full interview with Ida Nelson on THE PODCAST OF THE CITIES.

But it goes beyond a little boy.

A Colombe survey 2019 find:

  • Black women’s hair is almost three and a half times more likely to be seen as unprofessional
  • Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be fired from work because of their hair
  • More than four in five women (83%) say they are judged more severely on their appearance than other women

“There is a sort of message or ideology that black hair is unprofessional and unacceptable,” Nelson said.

“I associated certain styles with ‘being a ghetto’ as if it had a negative connotation because that’s what society has taught me to think and believe instead of embracing and celebrating things that make us feel use only. “

The protection of cultural hairstyles began in 2019 when California and New York signed the CROWN Act.

CROWN means “Create a respectful and open workplace for natural hair”.

Now, many of these protections will be in place in Illinois when the Jett Hawkins law becomes law midway through the 2021-2022 school year.

“This sends the message that Illinois cares about mental health outcomes for children of color and helps them embrace their own culture and individuality,” Nelson said.

Illinois joins four other states that enacted the new CROWN Act laws: Connecticut, New Mexico, Delaware, and Nebraska.

The laws of each state prohibit discrimination based on hair texture.

Ida Nelson says she is ready to help other states do the same.

“What it does is it sends the message that Illinois cares about mental health outcomes for children of color and helps them embrace their own culture and individuality,” Nelson added.

Watch “News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens” Sunday morning at 10 am on WQAD News 8.


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