The CROWN Act: California Bill Aims to Protect Black Folks from Hair Discrimination

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California could become the first state to protect Black employees and students from hair-based discrimination, thanks to recently proposed legislation.

The CROWN Act, which seeks to banish policies that punish Black folks for their hairstyles, got the green light in the state Senate in April and could be voted on in the state Assembly as early as this week, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If passed, the bill would provide protections to those at school or work by barring the enforcement of grooming policies that unfairly impact African-Americans and other people of color.

California Hair Discrimination
The recently proposed CROWN Act would outlaw grooming policies that have a disproportionate impact on Black people. (Getty Images)

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who proposed the legislation, said the bill’s acronym perfectly reflects its intent: “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair.”

“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equate ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment,” Mitchell wrote.

The bill comes at a time when Black people have faced pressure, and even punishments, over natural hairstyles including dread locks, twists, braids and afros. Today’s standards of professionalism are still very much linked to Eurocentic beauty and norms, and continue to fuel the racist belief that Black hair is inferior or flat-out improper.

“Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair … have a disparate impact on Black individuals, as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group,” Mitchell added. “Therefore, hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.”

In 2018, Alabama woman Chastity Jones took her case to the Supreme Court after she claims a company rescinded her job offer after she refused to cut her dreads. A varsity high school wrestler also made headlines earlier this year when he was faced with the heartbreaking decision to either cut his locs or forfeit a championship match; he chose the match.

Under the CROWN Act, anti-discrimination protections in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code would be extended to include natural hair textures and “protective hairstyles.” The bill says protective hairstyles “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” It would also amend the state government and education codes to combat discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture, according to The L.A. Times.

“Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive in the media, in academic settings and in the workplace,” Mitchell told the newspaper. “So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional.'”

New York City approved a similar measure in February,  effectively outlawing hair discrimination. The guidance gave city residents the right to “maintain natural hair or hairstyles” including braids, locs, fades and Afros, that are “closely associated with one’s racial, ethnic or cultural identities.”  Those caught violating the measure now face fines of up to $250,000.

Kari Williams, who owns a hair salon in Beverly Hills, is vocal supporter of the California bill and lauds Mitchell’s recent efforts.

“It’s important to me as a black woman,” Williams told the LA Times. “Our skin color and our hair have been used as ways to continue to keep us disenfranchised.”

“It’s tough to move forward when our identity has been attacked,” she added.

The anti-discrimination bill is expected to make its way to Gov. Gavin Newsome‘s desk sooner than later, as it faces no official opposition.

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