Mass. House unanimously passes bill banning hair discrimination

MALDEN, Mass. — A bill that would ban discrimination based on someone’s hair is one step closer to becoming law.

The Massachusetts Crown Act, which unanimously passed the House Thursday, would prohibit race-based discrimination involving “natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations.”

The legislation was inspired in part by African American twin sisters Mya and Deanna Cook who were 15-year-old high school sophomores when their Malden charter school punished them for wearing their hair in braided hair extensions, which violated the former school policy.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s hair policy, which was removed following protests and an order from Attorney General Maura Healey, was meant to “foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism,” the school said in 2017.

But the Cook sisters said white students who violated the rule by coloring their hair were not punished.

Before the policy was changed, the girls received daily detentions and were barred from participating in track and attending prom.

Their story made national headlines and garnered support across country.

“As a kid, we just knew in our hearts that this really isn’t right,” Deanna said from her family’s Malden home Thursday.” So, you’re not really breaking the rule when it’s something that shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

The bill, passed in a 155-0 vote, was shaped by the Cook twins’ story and others’ experiences, including many Black women who have felt pressured to change their hair to conform to school and work policies.

“I was so happy, I wanted to jump for joy, but I was in the middle of class,” said Mya of Thursday’s vote. “And I’m especially happy that it’s unanimous.”

Mya and Deanna – now students at UMass Dartmouth and UMass Amherst, respectively – are optimistic the bill will have the same success when it heads to the Senate.

“Hair should not affect whether you get a job, or whether you are going to be successful at an interview, or if your landlord chooses to continue your rent,” Deanna said.

Their father, Aaron Cook, said his daughters worked hard sharing their story for five years to get to this point.

“Incredibly proud of my family sticking with this,” he said. “I’m frustrated we still have to fight this battle five years later, but we’re not going anywhere.”

Rep. Steven Ultrino of Malden, who worked with the Cook family on the bill, said on the House floor Thursday, “This isn’t an issue that pertains only to Black women; it is an issue about identity and the right to live in this world as our own natural selves.”

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano told Boston 25 News in a statement:

“I’m proud the House took action once again to ban discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in our schools, places of work, housing, and public accommodations. Bans on natural hairstyles are racist, and prohibiting these discriminatory policies is the right decision.”

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