The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on how people style their hair.
The ordinance protects people who have hairstyles "commonly associated with racial, ethnic or cultural identities," -- including natural hair, braids, locks, an afro, curls, cornrows and twists -- from being discriminated against in the workplace, housing and public places, according to city documents.
"Although some people think of hair as simply just that: hair, and fashions trends, the reality is that hair has a cultural significance to many of us, and throughout the years a variety of hair styles have not only shown cultural or religious significance, but also political significance," said Alderwoman Milele Coggs during a Judiciary & Legislation Committee meeting on Jan. 11.
"The statements of expression that we are able to do and a culture we are allowed to celebrate through our styles of hair are ones that should be left to us to determine and should not be utilized as a tool of discrimination in the workplace," she said.
Ald. Coggs co-sponsored the legislation with Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, who worked on the file with the city's Equal Rights Commission in response to reported incidents of ethnic or race-based hairstyle discrimination in workplaces across the country.
Such incidents have given national rise to what's known as The CROWN Act (short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair). The legislation was first introduced in 2019 in California by retail cosmetics giant Dove and a coalition of several civil rights groups; it has since gained momentum to be signed into law in seven states and nine cities, according to its website.
The campaign claims that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.
Locally, the resolution adds "protective hairstyle" to the list of prohibited discriminations, such as sex, race, religion and national origin, under the equal rights chapter of the city's code of ordinances.
Ald. Coggs said the past year has provided time to reflect on the systemic nature of racism in the U.S. and its impact on society.
"Police issues is one thing, but allowing the discrimination based upon hair styles that have cultural and political significance to people is also an example of how systemic racism has become in this country," she said.