In France, the subject of hair discrimination – teasing about baldness for example – is sometimes laughable, but it is taken very seriously in most Anglo-Saxon countries. Thus we learn, by consulting the bill of the deputy Liot Olivier Serva, that California adopted, in July 2019, a “CROWN act” (acronym which could be translated into French as “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair”)! The law was later adopted in 14 other US states. And the subject of discrimination in hiring has been studied for years in prestigious American and British universities.

But in France, there is clearly, according to Olivier Serva, a “hole in the racket” on this issue. It is to fill this “legal void” that the deputy of the 1st constituency of Guadeloupe is preparing to table a text that he wants to be “transpartisan”. “It’s on the right track,” he says. The Office of the President of the National Assembly is interested and colleagues from all political stripes have co-signed my bill”. Thus, if he manages to put the text on the agenda in October – the legislative agenda seems too busy by then – the elected representative believes that he would obtain a large majority of support. No risk, therefore, that it only passes by a hair’s breadth!

Le Point: Why did you file a bill to “recognize and punish hair discrimination”?

Olivier Serva: I was particularly challenged by a decision handed down by the Court of Cassation on November 23, 2022. It found that Air France had committed discrimination by prohibiting a steward from wearing braids. He had been fired for this reason. However, the regulations allowed “African braids” for women, as long as they were held up by a bun. He finally won his case but he had to wait ten years! And justice did not make this decision on the basis of hair discrimination but because of gender discrimination. I therefore identified a legal void, a hole in the racket that I wanted to fill.

Some question the usefulness of such a law, recalling that a law relating to physical discrimination had already been adopted in 2001. What do you answer them?

The text that I am proposing is complementary since it aims to integrate into the field of criminal repression of discrimination any discrimination or distinction based on the texture, color, length or hair style of an individual. By specifically designating hair discrimination, I complete the 2001 law by adding another form of discrimination which, in my opinion, must be taken more seriously in France.

Yet it is a subject in which the Anglo-Saxon world has been interested for years…

Yes absolutely, we have very little data in France because ethnic studies are not allowed. But the studies carried out by the United Kingdom or the United States, for example, are particularly enlightening. A very recent study by Dove and LinkedIn indicates that two-thirds of African American women say they change their hairstyle before a job interview. And it’s not just an ethnic issue since in the UK, in 2009, a third of blonde women surveyed said they had to dye their hair brown to appear smarter to their employers. It affects everyone, at every level! We thus learn by reading the memoirs of Michelle Obama – This light in us – that the first lady felt obliged to straighten her hair during the eight years of her husband’s mandate.

Other studies show us that it is also a public health problem. A recent study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) found in 2012 that the risk of developing uterine cancer was much higher in women who used hair products to straighten their hair than in those who did not. steps: 4.05% vs. 1.64%. Another study conducted by researchers in epidemiology in Boston has also established a correlation between the use of these products and fibroids.

Finally, it is a societal problem. Sociologist Jean-François Amadieu, director of the Discrimination Observatory at the Sorbonne, explains very well in his book The Society of Appearance that flattening your hair is also, in a way, flattening your personality. This disrupts self-esteem and can lead to mental complications in the individual concerned.

What do you propose ?

The transpartisan law proposal that I am carrying and which will, I hope, be discussed in October in Parliament, contains two articles. The first article aims to strengthen article 225-1 of the Penal Code, by including hair discrimination, and the second article should make it possible to modify the Labor Code in the same way.