Hair Today, Black Tomorrow — Free Spirit Media
The Jett Hawkins Act was passed to help end hairstyle discrimination in Illinois schools. But the real question is: Can we do more for young adults in the Chicagoland area?
Passage of the Jett Hawkins Act was the result of a four-year-old with the same name sent home because he wore pigtails to his preschool at Providence St. Mel School. Jett’s mother, Ida Nelson, appalled by the school’s problematic decision, told the institution about the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World with No Racism) Act which seeks to end hair discrimination. His resistance to their statement as well as to the CROWN Act was brought to the public attention by the CROWN Coalition, a national alliance founded by several organizations such as Dove (the hair care brand) and the National Urban League, to put end to race-based hair scattering. The Coalition, which was created in early 2019, successfully led legislation to end hair discrimination in fourteen states. Once Ida Nelson went public with the abuse of her son, the Coalition took action through its own social campaign to help her. Eventually, public awareness and help from other officials led to the creation of the Jett Hawkins Act which went into effect on January 1.
Illinois Senator Mike Simmons (7th District) helped draft the Jett Hawkins Act. He wears freeform locs. He commented on the situation stating, “When he saw Jett’s story, he understood and he saw himself. That’s why representation is so important, and he wanted to step up and do his part too and help me change that.” After the bill was finally passed on August 13, Simmons said, “No child should ever have to experience being celibate by their school to sport a hairstyle that stays true to their heritage, their culture. or their ancestors.
“Why we fight for our hair”
The way black people style their hair is usually a form of self-expression. Similar to how we dress, hair represents how we would like to present ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, for some demographic groups in this country, their natural hair is considered something unorthodox and something they are ashamed of. To be specific, black Americans have had their hair demonized for decades with strict mandates in schools and other professional workplaces that seek to regulate how black children, teens and adults can wear their hair. Whether it be forcibly cutting off a high school wrestler’s dreadlocks (in the case of sixteen-year-old Andrew Johnson from New Jersey) in the middle of a game in 2019 or sending a four-year-old home to have pigtails, intolerance towards black hair is still prevalent.
While we’ve made great strides in reversing hair discrimination in Illinois schools, that’s not stopping most workplaces in the state. All these recent laws and laws do not apply to employers who can choose candidates based on their hairstyle. This can prevent young adults with flowing hair or a slightly different color from missing out on opportunities because there’s nothing in place to protect them. Due to Illinois human rights law, workplaces must already have fair hiring practices that don’t consider race, but most ethnic hairstyles are used to fire them . Just getting the Jett Hawkins Act and the CROWN Act to apply to schools is a band-aid on the stab wound of a problem, and if the regulations aren’t passed, young adults in the area of Chicago will have a rude awakening.