New Mexico adopts new law to fight hairstyle discrimination

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In this photo provided by the New Mexico Office of the Governor, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs a $330 million economic relief package aimed at helping small businesses and out-of-work New Mexicans while at the State Capitol, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 in Santa Fe, N.M. (New Mexico Office of the Governor via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed into law legislation that prohibits discrimination based on traditional hairstyles and head coverings.

The “Crown Act,” as it’s known nationally, was conceived as a measure to protect African Americans from discrimination based on natural or traditional hairstyles. In New Mexico, the bill was crafted to be more inclusive and won support from a broader coalition, including Native American and religious advocates.

Under the new law, traditional hairstyles and religious coverings cannot be prohibited in work or school dress codes or used as an excuse to turn someone down for a job.

Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the legislation was a product of a group of lawmakers and others who recognized that multicultural diversity is a strength and that “we must actively fight for justice.”

Amy Whitfield, director of the state Office of African American Affairs, said those who testified during the legislative session on behalf of the legislation illustrated the effects of racial discrimination based on hair and its compounding effects on potential opportunities.

“The advocates of this bill should be commended for their articulation of the importance and necessity for this legislation to pass, through their shared experiences on the collective damage sustained through this type of discrimination,” Whitfield said.

Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo called the legislation long overdue, saying there’s no place for discrimination against students based on race or culture.

“We must do better to ensure our cultural heritage is respected,” she said. ”The passage of this legislation helps to ensure that racial inequities concerning hair and cultural headdresses are no more and that this type of discrimination will no longer be accepted or tolerated in our schools.”

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