"Pelo Malo" No More: How Efforts to Ending Hair Discrimination Are Advancing
Being isolated for two months has inspired me to take extra good care of my curls, and it's so freeing to be able to confidently and freely rock my natural curls. Unfortunately, this hasn't always been the case for curly girls — brown and black women especially.
Not only were we conditioned for centuries — as a result of colonialism, racism, colorism, and Eurocentric beauty standards — to believe that curly hair was "pelo malo," but rocking our natural hair can literally cost us our jobs in many states.
Natural hair discrimination is something that is absolutely legal in several states. Companies can tell brown and black women to straighten their hair for work in order to look "more professional," like Chastity Jones' case.
Rocking our natural hair can literally cost us our jobs in many states
In 2010, she was offered a job in customer service and when she refused to cut her dreadlocks, the job offer was rescinded. Fortunately, we're living in a time where that's finally starting to turn around thanks to The CROWN Coalition and Dominican-American Marcy Polanco, who is proud to be playing a part in it.
The CROWN Coalition (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is focused on advancing efforts to end hair discrimination and to create a more equitable and inclusive beauty experience for black and brown women and girls. In 2019, the Dove Crown Research Study found that across the country, women of color are disproportionately burdened by companies' grooming policies that single them out for their natural hair.
According to the study, "Black women are made to be more aware of corporate grooming policies than White women." From the start of the application process, the findings continued, "the presence of hair/appearance policies are given to Black women at significantly higher rates (22 percent) than non-Black women (17 percent)." The study added that during orientation, 35 percent of Black women versus 23 percent of non-Black women received company grooming policies, and 32 percent of non-Black women stated they never actually received the corporate grooming policy compared to 18 percent of Black women.
I want my daughter and my nieces to feel proud of their natural hair — not ashamed of it.
The CROWN Coalition sponsored The CROWN Act (SB 188) in California, introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell. It has now been signed into law, making California the first state to make hair discrimination illegal. Hair discrimination was later banned in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and Virginia, and several other states and cities across the country are following suit.
"For me, this project became personal as we began hearing so many stories about hair discrimination," Polanco said. "As a Latina and a mother, I need to make sure the next generation doesn't have to deal with these disparities. I want my daughter and my nieces to feel proud of their natural hair — not ashamed of it."
Like many Latinas, Polanco herself grew up hearing the term "pelo malo" quite often, although she says the terms that were most used to describe her hair were "pelo macho" or "pajón." She was raised to believe that straight hair was presentable. "Curly hair was not seen as beautiful growing up. Not at all," Polanco said.
"When my hair was straight and permed it was seen as beautiful. Even though I thought my curly hair was pretty, no one ever said anything positive when my hair was curly." It wasn't until college when Polanco started embracing her rizos, and even though it's been years, sometimes it feels like a struggle. "There are times when I don't feel confident with my natural hair but I'm working on it."
"There are times when I don't feel confident with my natural hair but I'm working on it."
While Polanco is very much still on her own hair journey, she believes that getting involved in the CROWN Act is what made her realize how significant it is to be able to rock your natural hair freely and confidently. Her goal is to continue to push the movement forward and make sure people are aware that this legislation exists.
"Hair discrimination has real measurable social and economic impact on women of color, this is why we're working diligently to pass The Crown Act in every state and get the federal bill passed," she said.