Starting today Illinois schools can no longer ban cornrows, locs, afros and braids from school. Thanks to a West Side Chicago mom who fought for hair discrimination. pic.twitter.com/gvAm8603ZY
— SAY CHEESE! 👄🧀 (@SaycheeseDGTL) January 3, 2022
The tweet and its Facebook iteration stated:
Starting today [January 3 2022] Illinois schools can no longer ban cornrows, locs, afros and braids from school. Thanks to a West Side Chicago mom who fought for hair discrimination.
Although the posts included a photograph of an adult and a child holding what appeared to be legislation, neither included news links or context about any bill in Illinois addressing hair discrimination.
What is Hair Discrimination?
Wikipedia contained several entries focused on hair discrimination, and defined it specifically in the United States as follows:
In the United States, discrimination based on hair texture is a form of social injustice that has been predominantly experienced by African Americans and predates the existence of the country. There is no existing federal law that prohibits this form of discrimination, but there have been legislative proposals to do so. In the 21st century, multiple states and local governments have passed laws that prohibit such discrimination, California being the first state to do so in 2019 with the Crown Act.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s landing page for natural hair discrimination explained:
For decades, LDF has recognized natural hair discrimination as racism by another name. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF has worked to end race-based hair discrimination.
Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism, and its purpose is to preserve white spaces. Policies that prohibit natural hairstyles, like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs, have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and Black adults from their employment. With no nationwide legal protections against hair discrimination, Black people are often left to risk facing consequences at school or work for their natural hair or invest time and money to conform to Eurocentric professionalism and beauty standards.
No one should be targeted for being who they are. The criminalization of Black hairstyles must end. Together with the CROWN Coalition, LDF is fighting to end hair discrimination and push for The CROWN Act to become law in all 50 states.
Black adults, school children and members of the military have long been discriminated against because of their natural hairstyles, such as afros, twists, locs and braids. By penalizing hairstyles that fall outside of Eurocentric norms of beauty, discriminatory grooming policies in schools and workplaces are directly linked to institutional racism.
In November 2021, a Pew report (“Banning Hair Discrimination Emerges as Racial Justice Issue”) described advances in reducing or eliminating hair discrimination in then-recent months:
When Dina Neal, the first African American woman elected to the Nevada Assembly, came to the state Capitol in 2011, she wore her hair in braids. Her hairstyle was a practical choice.
Carson City was snowy and cold, “and I did not want to wear my wet hair out every day in 25-degree weather,” she said.
In 2013, a White staffer told Neal her hairstyle was “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” The comment stung, but Neal kept her braids.
“I just dealt with it. I did not take the four hours to take out my braids,” Neal, a Democrat, said in an interview.
Many Black women endure uninformed comments about their hair and feel pressure to conform to workplace standards set by White people. Eight years after that incident, Neal, now a state senator, saw an opportunity to change the status quo.
Neal introduced a bill in March  to prohibit racial hair discrimination. Nevada’s measure passed both legislative houses with bipartisan support, and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed it into law in June .
Illinois Hair Discrimination Legislation
A brief search for information returned numerous articles from August 2021. For example, Today.com reported:
Illinois schools will be prohibited from issuing rules regarding hairstyles historically associated with race and ethnicity, such as braids and twists, under a new law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The measure approved by the Legislature this spring and signed by Pritzker on [August 13 2021] aims to end discrimination based on students’ hairstyles. It is known as the Jett Hawkins Law after Gus “Jett” Hawkins, a Black student who at age 4 was told to take out his braids because the hairstyle violated the dress code at his Chicago school.
His mother, Ida Nelson, began an awareness campaign after the incident, saying stigmatizing children’s hair can negatively affect their educational development. She called [August 13 2021]’s bill signing “monumental.”
The same month, another outlet covered the new bill, explaining:
State Senator Mike Simmons — who keeps his hair in long, freeform locs — drafted the bill with the State Board of Education after Nelson shared her son’s story.
“It’s important for me to act on my lived experiences. I know from my childhood what it’s like to be regularly belittled, humiliated, isolated and shamed by adults in the school setting,” Simmons said. “Black youth should be able to learn and become who they are without being traumatized and constantly targeted for who they are.”
Braids, locs and cornrows aren’t just a fashion statement: such styles have been worn by people of the African diaspora since precolonial times as a way to keep kinky hair neat, clean and protected from the elements. Black people have historically used intricate braid patterns as symbols to represent cultural identities, including tribal affiliation, marital status, social status and religion.
But they also are the target of educational and workplace policies that say such styles are not professional, neat, groomed or respectable. Black children frequently face discipline because of their hair: A high school senior in Texas was told he couldn’t walk in graduation or go to prom last year  until he cut his dreadlocks, twin girls at a charter school outside Boston were given detention and faced suspension because of their box braids and an elementary school in suburban Atlanta used pictures of Black children’s hair to demonstrate “inappropriate” styles for school, among other incidents.
In August 2021, Pritzer was quoted as saying:
Nobody should be made to feel ‘less than’ for how they express themselves – so in Illinois, we’re making it so school uniform and dress code policies in Illinois cannot prohibit or restrict hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture … Today, we are adding to the progress we’ve already made by allowing students of color to embrace the power of their heritage rather than compromise their identity. This is yet another way Illinois is making powerful strides in transforming the culture of our schools.
On December 25 2021, Chicago’s WLS-TV’s article “New laws 2022: Illinois laws that take effect January 1 ” highlighted the bill alongside other new laws going into effect in January 2022:
No More Hair Discrimination in Schools (SB 0817)
You do you, including your ‘do. The Jett Hawkins Act was named for and inspired by a Chicago 4-year-old boy, who faced discrimination for wearing his hair in braids at his preschool.
His mother, Ida Nelson, led the charge to establish a law prohibiting discriminating against natural and ethnic hairstyles including locs, braids, twists and afros, in schools.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law in August , at a ceremony attended by Nelson and Hawkins.
“For decades Black people have had too often their natural and protective hairstyles weaponized against them,” Pritkzer said at the time.
The law also requires the Illinois State Board of Education to provide schools with educational materials to teach about protective hairstyles.
“I am excited for the children of Illinois to be able to go to school without having to be concerned about their hair,” Nelson said at the signing ceremony.
While the tweet and Facebook post referenced “today” on January 3 2022, the law went into effect on January 1 2022. January 1 and 2 2022 fell on a Saturday and Sunday respectively, indicating January 3 2022 was the first day that schools would be open for the law to truly be in effect.
A viral Say Cheese digital post shared on January 3 2022 stated: “Starting today[,] Illinois schools can no longer ban cornrows, locs, afros and braids from school. Thanks to a West Side Chicago mom who fought [against] hair discrimination.” Hair discrimination as a social matter is well-documented, and served as the focus of legislation like Illinois’ SB 0817, signed into law in August 2021. The legislation officially went into effect on January 1 2022 (a Saturday), with January 3 2022 the first school day after the law went into effect.