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Cincinnati Bans Discrimination Against Natural Hairstyles

A transmasculine person with a natural hairstyle.
Zackary Drucker
The Gender Spectrum Collection

Cincinnati City Council voted Wednesday to make it illegal to discriminate against natural hair and hairstyles associated with race.

The 7-to-1 vote made Cincinnati the second city in the country, after New York City, to pass such protections. The ordinance covers people in employment, housing and public accommodation.

The vote took place after women turned out during the public comment portion to tell stories of discrimination they've faced. Council member Chris Seelbach says this vote helps progress "an important path toward leveling the playing field in the community."

Seelbach introduced the legislation. He says California's nondiscrimination law passed in July sparked his interest, and he asked black women to share their experiences.

"Real examples today where they were denied job opportunities or made to feel inferior because of their hairstyles," he told WVXU.

Natural hair refers to the texture that grows without chemical treatment.

Miami University Sociology professor Rodney Coates said that white women may not feel these societal pressures since beauty standards are typically created based on their features.

"There's this historical link where aspects of beauty and what is refinement; but also, what is acceptable is based upon white hairstyles and not black hair styles," he says. 

The "Good Hair" survey by Perception Institute, an organization of researchers, advocates and strategists, found that one in five black women say they feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work. That’s twice as high as among white women.

Despite this, more black women have been embracing their natural hair in recent years. WCPO news anchor Kristen Swilley went viral in 2018 for her decision to go natural.

"Natural hair has become a place where people feel empowered to reclaim their cultural and racial identity and counter the expectations that other people have imposed on us," says University of Cincinnati sociology Ph.D. candidate Brittney Miles.

The lone “no” vote came from Republican Council member Amy Murray, who says she believed the protections for natural hair already fall under federal race discrimination laws. She argues that passing a city law would be redundant.

However, Miles says the ordinance could spur systematic change.

"That’s not just an upper level change," she says. "That begins to change our culture and how we interact on a daily basis."

At the state level, California and New York ban discrimination against natural hair and Kentucky is considering it.