The year 2019 was a big one for hair in New Jersey.

The state implemented more than four new laws and regulations protecting people from discrimination based on their hair and helping minority and immigrant small-business owners and professionals who work with hair.

Many of the anti-discrimination protections were inspired by an incident last December in which a high school wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks on the spot or forfeit a match. As a result, the referee was suspended for two seasons.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure that bans discrimination based on hair. The Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, amends the discrimination law so that the term “race” includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles,” such as braids, locks, and twists.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, cited the episode with the wrestler as inspiration for her bill. The law makes New Jersey the third state after California and New York this year to adopt such protections.

Last month, the State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling, which licenses hair professionals, created a limited license and licensing requirements for hair braiders and braiding shops as mandated by a 2018 law.

The limited license for hair braiding requires no more than 50 hours of training as opposed to 1,200 hours of training required for a full cosmetology license, which can cost $17,000 to obtain and requires studying matters largely unrelated to braiding.

The board also adopted new rules increasing the number of members on the Board of Cosmetology to 13 and requiring that at least two members of the board be owners or operators of a braiding shop.

"Hair braiders and their patrons primarily include African-American women and other women of African and/or Caribbean descent," the Division of Consumer Affairs said Friday in a written statement announcing the changes, which are effective starting this month and subject to re-adoption next year. "[T]he Legislature and Board seek to remove certain barriers to economic opportunity for individuals who might pursue work as hair braiders, while maintaining consumer protections for their patrons."

In September, the state Division on Civil Rights cautioned workplaces and institutions that racial bias includes discrimination based on a trait “inextricably intertwined with or closely associated with race," such as hairstyles closely associated with black people like twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, locs, Bantu knots and fades.

An agreement between the division and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of high school sports, also prevents the hair rule from interpreting "traditionally Black hairstyles" as "unnatural" or against the grooming rules.

“Discrimination against black people because of their hair, which is often based on stereotypes that traditionally black hairstyles are 'unprofessional' or 'unkempt,' is a persistent form of anti-Black racism,” Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter said in September.

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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