Color Of Change is always challenging the written and unwritten rules to pass laws to protect Black people, and we #TellBlackStories — bringing together changemakers and celebrities to talk about the issues that affect Black communities the most.
Black people in states across the country are being wrongfully kicked out of school and publicly shamed for having natural hair. Like 11-year-old Faith Fennidy, who left her classroom crying after school officials said her braids were a violation of school policy, and Kerion Washington, who was denied a job at Six Flags because of his natural hair.
These experiences are just a few examples of how Black folks are being robbed of employment opportunities, education, and the dignity we deserve because employers and institutions cloak their racism in dress code policies, and define ‘professionalism’ as white aesthetic in ways designed to keep us out. This is more than just hair discrimination. This is a racial and economic justice issue that, compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic, has amplified economic inequalities for Black people and the plight of Black-owned businesses.
This week, I joined Tracee Ellis Ross, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Representative Leslie Herod, and the owners of two Black beauty salons Jennifer Lord and Thomasina Jackson, for a Color Of Change panel, InHAIRitance: Supporting Hair Love & Small Black Beauty Businesses.
During the panel, we discussed The CROWN Act — a law that would protect Black people from hair discrimination in workplaces and schools — and the importance of supporting small Black businesses, like beauty salons, who provide us with essential hair care services. We felt it critical to have this conversation because, as with many other Black women, we have personally dealt with hair discrimination and want to highlight the impact of this form of institutionalized racism.
Black-owned beauty salons are one of the cultural pillars in our community, and part of the engine that fuels economic growth in our communities. As more states move to advance The CROWN Act, it is even more important that Black beauty salon owners receive the economic relief they need and deserve to be able to survive the pandemic.
To ensure this happens, we need all hands on deck to demand the protection and justice Black people need to deal with the negative impacts of COVID-19. So, we’re ending the year by continuing to speak out and demand government relief for small Black businesses, economic protection for Black workers, and justice for Black people through policies like The CROWN Act — and you can help us take action.
Here are a few ways to demand racial and economic justice for Black communities during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Now more than ever, is it absolutely imperative for us to do what the Treasury Department and Congress refuse to do: support Black-owned businesses and invest in their continued success through such trying times. That’s why Color Of Change launched, the Black Business Greenbook, a directory where you can find Black businesses to patronize for the holiday season and beyond. You can also contribute to our Black Business Green Book by submitting the name of a Black business that we should highlight in the guide.
The CROWN Coalition is fighting to end hair discrimination against Black people. Just last month, UPS finally ended their ban on natural Black hairstyles, but there’s still so much more work to be done. So far, the Act has only been signed into law by a total of seven states, including New York, New Jersey and Virginia — and is being considered by over 20 additional states. A movement is building and this is only the beginning. As states across the country continue to fight and advocate for a ban on hairstyle discrimination, we must work to ensure that similar protections of Black dignity are a national standard going forward.
Our recent poll shows that nearly half of Black-owned small businesses have already closed permanently, or will soon shutter due to insufficient federal COVID relief. And only 37% of Black small business owners received the amount of assistance they requested, despite being more likely to apply. When you protect Black business, you protect Black workers. Direct grants would ensure that more Black-owned businesses can cover costs to maintain business and pay employees. Without federal relief, Black businesses won't survive. Congress needs to provide a direct paycheck guarantee to small businesses and cut out the middleman, or Black communities will continue to disproportionately share the burden of this crisis.
Black people are the majority of part-time, hourly, or contract workers who are experiencing the bulk of economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment rates are at a historic high, and more than half of Black workers hold jobs where they have to be in physical contact with other people — putting them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many people in our communities are forced to risk their health just to be put into a position where they have to decide between paying for housing, medical care, and other necessities. People shouldn’t have to live paycheck-paycheck, and one stimulus check is not enough. Congress has the power to enact a guaranteed income so our communities can survive the pandemic.
Black people are more likely to die from COVID-19, and we’re more likely to be evicted from our homes. On December 31st, The Center for Disease Control’s national eviction moratorium ends, leaving nearly 19 million people without homes at the end of this month. In October, instead of passing COVID relief, Congress took a recess while 54 million people were dealing with food insecurity. The pandemic has exasperated existing health, economic, and social inequalities for Black communities, and Congress is idly standing by as people across the country struggle to survive. Black and low-income people are not indispensable. Congress needs to immediately provide our communities with direct cash payments. #DirectCashRelief.
As Tracee Ellis Ross stated, “Black hair is a portal into our souls.” When we look to the future of legislation, we must also push for laws that are essential for Black people to authentically exist as they are, because the fight for racial justice extends beyond overt racism — we need policies that also safeguard our dignity and humanity during a pandemic that has exasperated racial inequality.
For more information on how to demand support and protection for Black communities during the pandemic, check out TheBlackResponse.org.