We sat down with Ashlei Spivey, director of I Be Black Girl and ACLU of Nebraska board member, to talk about what a new bill means to Black Nebraskans and Nebraskans with textured hair. If passed, LB 451 would end natural hair discrimination in the workplace.
ACLU of NE: Let’s talk about natural hair discrimination: what is it and what would the passage of LB 451 mean to Black Nebraskans and Nebraskans with textured hair?
Ashlei Spivey: We are super excited to be organizing on LB 451. This legislation is an opportunity to start to chip away at institutional racism through policy by expanding protections in the workplace around natural hair and really clarifying that hair texture is associated with race.
This has been a long road. We introduced legislation last year with Senator Machaela Cavanaugh during session and we made it through three rounds of debate. It came out of committee and it was vetoed by the Governor and it was really disheartening.
Stopping natural hair discrimination in the workplace was a very accessible way to demonstrate as a state that we want inclusive and affirming workplaces. It’s important that we see - especially for Black women, folks with textured hair, protective styles, and styles that are aligned with our roots, culture and religion – you as professional. My locs are not to be seen as dirty or make me less of an expert. I should be able to wear my hair in a way that allows me to show up to work and feel like my authentic self.
ACLU of NE: In your own words could you talk to me about LB 451 and how we got here in terms of this current iteration of the bill?
So, this legislative session, we came back and said, you know what, stopping natural hair discrimination is important to us. If we can do this, it would be a step in the right direction for Nebraska policymakers and for our workplaces and we're not going to give up.
We’ve been actively working with Senator McKinney who introduced LB 451 this session. We have also been in contact with representatives from the governor's office and are in tune with what the community is saying. What they want from LB 451 is to really put something forward and finally get it across the finish line. I feel like we have really worked with key stakeholders to put forth really strong legislation and address the concerns of the governor and other lawmakers.
Passing legislation like this is monumental but does not stop the work. Yes, it would chip away at institutional racism, yes it would make our workplaces a little more inclusive and affirming but that work doesn't stop there.
We want to continue to build on this type of legislation in schools and we want to think about other legislation that does not allow for folks of color, specifically Black women and femes, to really show up as their authentic selves and to have a high quality of life. I'm excited to be able to support our policymakers in this space to be able to support our state in this space but I Be Black Girl is still going to demand and advocate for more because that's what we deserve.
ACLU of NE: Could you talk about any personal experiences with natural hair discrimination in the workplace?
I was actually fired from a role when I did my big chop and went natural. I had my hair chemically processed before I cut it all because I wanted it to grow without chemicals in it. When I did the big chop, I was working in retail selling jewelry. I was in jewelry for about four years at that time and this particular job was a part time gig. I was one of the top sellers in the company as a part timer. After I cut my hair, I would get comments about it so I would wear weaves on top of my newly chop hair just to give it some time to breathe and to protect it from the elements. When I was wearing my weaves on top of my now short natural hair, I would still get comments like “Wow, I love this hair. Are you going to keep this?” And then when I would wear my short natural hair, I would get comments like “Why did you cut your hair?”
Eventually I was starting to get taken off schedule. Then I was no longer on schedule and was eventually let go. It's hard for me to fathom that there was any other reason that I would be let go. I was a top producer as a part timer. I had worked then in retail for about four years. I was doing what I needed to do professionally but I was only getting feedback about my hair.
When I would wear traditional African head wraps, I had someone tell me that I was scaring some of our team members and I needed to not wear them even though that's a part of my culture.
Natural hair discrimination really affects how we're able to show up to work and how we are perceived as professional. I am hoping that this experience is no longer true for other Black Nebraskans or folks that have textured hair. I'm hoping that this legislation will send a message that that is not the kind of workplaces that we will have here in Nebraska and that people can show up to their workplaces as their authentic selves.
ACLU of NE: Anything you want to add?
We are hoping that all Nebraskans can be advocates for LB 451 at each level of debate and really push this forward. We know that it's not only the right thing to do but it's necessary to show up and show that Nebraska is the good life and that we hold these values to be true and our policy is apparent in our behaviors. LB 451 is a step in that direction. Thank you to all the Black women and folks who have shared their stories and who are advocating on the front lines around banning natural hair discrimination.
We will see this at the finish line.