OPINION: Let’s end hair discrimination in Mississippi

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Rep. Zakiya Summers

By Representative Zakiya Summers

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Former First Lady Michelle Obama once stated that ​​the difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued.

When a woman or young lady feels good in her own person, it shows. And when we empower women and young ladies, everyone benefits. One sure way to empower women is to start when they’re young. 

I have very thick hair and when I was a little girl, my mom thought she could make it more manageable if she permed it to my grandmother’s dismay. Myrtle Collins Hall, or Mama, had a beauty shop in her house in the big town of Prentiss and women from all surrounding counties – Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Marion, Simpson – would line up for a fresh press and curl every Saturday. My grandmother would fit me in, too. I can still remember the sounds and smells of the pressing comb into the hot stove. That is a part of our culture. 

Eventually, I grew out of the perm stage and the press and curl and decided to go natural, and I’ve been natural ever since I was 18 years old. My hair has gone through a transformation over the past 20+ years. My hair is naturally curly and it still presses out well.

My mom and the women in my life always motivated me and made me feel like my hair was beautiful no matter how I wore it. Yet, I was still met with curiosity about my hair, particularly when I went to college. My dorm mates would ask me if I washed my hair every day and one of my newsroom supervisors asked me why my hair changed styles from day to day. Those kinds of questions can turn into biases that end up negatively impacting Black girls and women.

In fact, Dove conducted a research study for girls and found that 53-percent of Black mothers say their daughters have experienced racial discrimination based on hairstyles as early as five years old. In its workplace research study, Dove found that more than 20-percent of Black women between the ages of 25-34 have been sent home from work because of their hair and that Black women’s hair is likely to be perceived as unprofessional. 

These biases have played out right here in the Magnolia State and have far-reaching consequences, both internally and economically.

Diamond Campbell, a powerlifter at Bruce High School, was nearly disqualified from the state championship because she had beads in her hair. The photo of her teammates frantically working to remove the beads went viral and what people remarked as good sportsmanship was actually the result of hair discrimination. Diamond said it made her feel low.

And another story – Brittany Nobel, a local tv anchor, was told her crown braid hairstyle was unprofessional and not long after that was fired.

This is something we can no longer ignore. No one should be denied opportunities or be unfairly targeted because of their hair.

Hair is a part of who we are and we should not be made to feel “less than” because of it. So we are working to reshape beauty standards, represent textured hair and natural styles as polished, and restore freedom and sovereignty to our girls and women.

That’s why we are raising awareness for the CROWN ACT. CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. As of June 2023, 23 states have enacted the CROWN ACT and Mississippi should be next because this legislation is long overdue.

Visit www.thecrownact.com to learn more about why this legislation is so important. You can also sign the petition and get plugged in. 

Then, contact your state representative and your state senator and ask them to support this legislation. You can also help us spread the message on social media by using the hashtag #passthecrownms. 

A woman’s hair is her glory and we want all our girls and women to know they wear a crown. Let’s end hair discrimination and protect our women and girls. Together, we can get this done in 2024.

Zakiya Summers is entering into her second term as State Representative for House District 68.

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OPINION: Let’s end hair discrimination in Mississippi

By Jackson Advocate News Service
September 25, 2023