I was scared, confused and enraged. I wanted to move right into action but was lost as to what action to take.
As a healthcare provider, and specifically, a physical therapist, my core nature is to assess a situation, create a plan to secure a better outcome, and execute that plan. But as I watched and read the news in horror, I did not know what to do, where to start, how to contribute to a better outcome.
I shared my feelings with my college-aged daughter. I told her that the message I am hearing is it is not enough to not be racist. I must be anti-racism. I must take action. But I didn’t know what the action should, or could, look like.
My daughter, Summer Kraff, knowing that I am not active on social media and how much I love a clear to-do list, said, “Mom, just Google it,” and she shared this take action list:
- Participate in a Protest
- Donate to Other Initiatives
- Support Minority-owned Businesses
- Educate Yourself
- Sign a Petition
- Stay up to Date
It was such a relief to be given an action plan with doable options that I could choose from! Donating to a cause was an easy first step, and thankfully, I could afford to do so. But I wanted to do more. I took to educating myself.
I grew up privileged and in a liberal bubble of relative acceptance. I was not unaware of the discrimination that runs rampant in our society today, but was still grossly ignorant of the insidious way discrimination is still legalized.
I came across a documentary called Tangled Roots. It follows Attica Scott, a community organizer, on the issues of racial equality and criminal justice. “[She is] the only black woman in the Kentucky state legislature and the film follows her fight to dismantle a system of discrimination against black people penalized for something seemingly innocuous – their hair.”
I had no idea that a child can be refused access to education or an employee can be sent home from the office because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots. And this is legal.
I was shocked and curious if any other states allow this or have protections against such blatant discrimination. After some research, I learned that only 23 states have enacted or are considering legislation to prohibit natural hair discrimination. California was the first to enact the CROWN Act, drafted and sponsored by State Senator Holly Mitchell and passed into law on June 27, 2019. This past year, 22 other states have enacted similar versions of the CROWN Act.
And that is it.
Only 23 states – less than 50% of America – protect black people from discrimination based on their hairstyle.
“Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people. Implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day for black people across the country.”
Discrimination against natural hair can limit access to education and rob an individual of their economic security. It also increases underrepresentation of people of color in the healthcare professions and directly limits their access to obtaining affordable healthcare.
The ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense Fund urged the state of Florida to investigate a private school that banned 6-year-old C.J. Stanley from his first day of classes in August 2018 because of his hairstyle. While this is a private school, it receives scholarship and voucher dollars from public state funding.
The legal action cites that the school received publicly funded state scholarship funds – in the form of a scholarship through the Florida Tax Credit (“FTC”) Scholarship Program – for C.J. to attend first grade at A Book’s Christian Academy. Upon arriving for his first day of classes, he and his father were told he could “not attend the school because his hair went below his ears and because it was in locs. Mr. Stanley asked more than once if he could pull C.J.’s hair back into a ponytail or similar style in an effort to comply with the school’s policy. Administrators refused.”
The school handbook expressly prohibits boys from wearing “dreads” and requires that boys wear their hair in a “tapered cut, off the collar and ears.” The legal action further stipulated that despite this stated policy, a promotional YouTube video on the school’s website showed what appeared to be a white male child with a haircut that extended below his ears.
The ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund postulate the hair policy at A Book’s Academy constitutes racial discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and therefore violates state law.
The school is a participant of the FTC Scholarship Program and as such, must comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Thus, schools that discriminate on the basis of race violate both Title VI and Florida law.
In August 2019, the New York Times reported a public elementary school in Decatur, GA displayed posters on campus of inappropriate haircuts. While the children’s faces were covered with Post-it Notes, “There was one thing the children who were photographed had in common: They were all black.”
In March 2019, a Dallas teen, Kerion Washington, was denied a job at Six Flags because his locs were considered an extreme style.
I looked to my own professional organization, the APTA, to see if and how we use our lobbying strength and took comfort and inspiration from what I found.
The preamble of the APTA Code of Ethics (HOD SO6-19-47-67) includes the intent to “provide guidance for Physical Therapists facing ethical challenges,” and states in Principle #1:
Physical Therapists shall respect the inherent dignity and rights of all individuals.
The APTA actively takes action to shape policy issues and dedicates a section of its website to sharing how the APTA participates in advocacy issues impacting our profession and the patients and clients we serve.
The position paper titled, “The Allied Health Work Diversity Act: Discussing legislation to boost the number of minorities in the health profession workforce and correct the underrepresentation,” states:
“The American Physical Therapy Association strongly urges Congress to enact the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637/S. 2747). This bipartisan legislation would provide scholarships and stipends to accredited higher education programs to recruit qualified individuals who are from underrepresented backgrounds, including students from racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in the professions of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, and audiology.
According to a United States Government Accountability Office study, a more diverse health care workforce is important because:
- Minority groups disproportionately live in areas with health care provider shortages
- Patients who receive care from members of their own racial and ethnic background tend to have better outcomes, and
- Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to practice in shortage areas.”
Natural hair discrimination is racial discrimination. Limiting access to education, at any level, directly conflicts with the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act and limits access to future employment and medical benefits that facilitate affordable access to healthcare, the healthcare we provide.
As advocates for our colleagues in the remaining 27 unprotected states and as advocates for all members of every community to obtain affordable access to the healthcare we therapists provide, I implore you to learn more about what you can do to support any effort that directly parallels APTA initiatives to build “a community that advances the profession of Physical Therapy to improve the health of society.”
Is not the basic freedom of any human being a moral and ethical imperative?
I am an APTA member, a Casamba employee, a mother of two, and a woman in America: I can and should take action!
And, thanks to my social media-consuming daughter, now I am learning how.
Thank you, Summer Kraff.