Wake County, Raleigh consider hair discrimination protections for government employees

Anna Johnson
·2 min read

After graduating college, Shinica Thomas wound up interviewing for a job in Texas soon after arriving in the state with her military husband.

“I interviewed with a law firm there and they loved my credentials and qualifications but told me they would not make an offer and would not hire me unless I took the braids I was wearing out of my hair,” she said.

“I did not take my braids out. And I did not take that job,” she said. “But I also never wore my hair in braids or any manner other than straight, relaxed, Eurocentric-looking until about two years ago. So that’s been about 20 years.”

The newly elected Wake County commissioner doesn’t want county employees to face similar discrimination for wearing their hair naturally. Thomas recently asked that hair discrimination be added to the county’s non-discrimination ordinance following other North Carolina communities like Durham, Carrboro and Greensboro.

“There is discrimination based on hair in employment practices, in hiring practices, in promotions, even profiling,” Thomas said. “And it’s not just women. All Black people. All African-American people who wear natural hair whether that’s dreads or afros, braids or twists, however, your hair grows naturally out of your head.

The movement has picked up steam with efforts on the national and state level to pass the CROWN act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural-Hair.

It can be time-consuming for Black women and men to make their hair “acceptable” and conform to Eurocentric norms, she said, adding it can also cost a significant amount of money and damage people’s hair.

“I think it’s an unfair burden for that kind of expense on Black women when they already don’t make as much as their counterparts,” Thomas said.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners will hear from the county’s Human Resources Department Monday during a committee meeting, but it’s been met with support from staff and her fellow commissioners, Thomas said.

And she hopes Wake County’s towns and cities will also add the protections.

Raleigh City Council member Stormie Forte, the first Black woman to serve on the board, brought the issue up during a recent City Council meeting.

She asked the city attorney and city manager to bring back a report on providing that protection to city employees and those who contract with the city. The News & Observer called and texted Forte for this story but did not receive a reply.