I AM my Hair!

A Discussion of Race-Based Hairstyle Discrimination and How the CROWN Act is a Necessary Response

Hair Discrimination Crown ActA person’s hairstyle can say a lot without them uttering a single word. Women, predominantly Black American women and children, face race-based hairstyle discrimination in the workplace, school, housing and in public in general solely based on their natural, inherited hair. Dove, a global brand with over four hundred brand name products, partnered with the National Urban League and other organizations to create a solution to race-based hairstyle discrimination against Black American women and children.

This partnership formed the coalition known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Coalition, and the CROWN Coalition went to work to address the issues of race-based hairstyle discrimination against Black American women and children. Through their efforts, the CROWN Coalition sought and gained grassroots support from Black American community leaders and Black American state and federal legislators to drive legislative change. They created a bill known as the CROWN Act.

What is the CROWN Act and What Does it Do?

The CROWN Act is a bill that that was created in 2019 by the CROWN Act Coalition to protect Black American women and children from discrimination based on race-based hairstyles. The CROWN Coalition collected more than 200,000 petition signatures in support of the CROWN Act, which has so far only been adopted into law in 12 states. Namely; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington.1

California was the first state to pass the CROWN Act and even went the step further and changed the state’s definition of race to include “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” which include braids, locks and twists into their anti-discrimination law.2

  1. Article discussing the formation of the CROWN ACT. https://www.thecrownact.com.
  2. Senate Bill No. 188 Legislative Counsel’s Digest. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB188. (July 3, 2019).


Why is The CROWN Act Necessary? Some Historical Context

During the 1400s and 1500s, before European slave ships arrived in West Africa, hairstyles were very important to Black women and considered an essential part of the overall dress. When slaves were captured in West Africa, Europeans cut their hair to eradicate their sense of culture and identity.3

Free slaves of African descent in Louisiana wore feathers and jewels in their hair for which they were accused of wearing their hair in these styles to attract white men, which supposedly caused an influx of mixed-race children who were referred to as “mulattos.” “[M]ulatto is a racial classification to refer to people of mixed African and European ancestry.” In response to the influx of mulatto children- particularly mulatto females, The King of Spain, Charles III, demanded that the Colonial Governor of Louisiana, Esteban Rodriguez Miro issue an edict that required creole women to wear a head covering to conceal their hair.4

In the 1800s, African Americans began to use hair straightening agents such as hot combs and perms to straighten their naturally coiled hair texture to meet the Eurocentric ideal of society.4 By the 1970s, Black Americans wore their natural hair in the style of an afro as a symbol of resistance to the Eurocentric ideal or society.4 In the 21st century, natural hair became popularized when notable Black American actors such as Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis wore their hair in natural styles during globally televised events. However, such notoriety caused a backlash for Black American students and workers who experienced increase hair regulations and punishment due to their hair.5

In addition to the historical context of why the CROWN Act is a necessary tool against race-based hairstyle discrimination, the statistical context of race-based hairstyle discrimination offers even more clarification as to why legislation like the CROWN Act is necessary in all 50 states. According to research done by thecrownact.com, 47% of Black American mothers have reported receiving discrimination based on their hair, and 100% black girls in majority white schools have reported receiving discrimination based on their hair before the age of 10.6 You can read more here.6

In 2011, Dina Neal, the first Black American woman nominated to the Nevada Assembly went to the state capitol with her hair styled in single braids and was told by a white staffer that her hair style was “unprofessional and inappropriate.” Far too often, many black women feel pressured to conform their hairstyles to workplace standards set by white Americans. Such uninformed standards must be thrown out.7

  1. Article by Madalene Hagee. You Can’t Take Our Crowns: The Impact of Slavery on Black Women’s Hair. https://blackthen.com/you-cant-take-our-crowns-the-impact-of-slavery-on-black-womens-hair. (March 31, 2019).
  2. Article by Jameelah Nasheed. When Black Women Were Required By Law to Cover Their Hair. https://www.vice.com/en/article/j5abvx/black-womens-hair-illegal-tignon-laws-new-orleans-louisiana. (April 10, 2018).
  3. NBC News article by Janelle Griffith. When Hair Breaks Rules: Some Black Children Are Getting In Trouble For Natural Hairstyles. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/when-hair-breaks-rules-some-black-children-are-getting-trouble-n973346. (February 23, 2019).
  4. Dove CROWN Research Study. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5edc69fd622c36173f56651f/t/5edeaa2fe5ddef345e087361/1591650865168/Dove_research_brochure2020_FINAL3.pdf. (2019).
  5. Article by Marsha Mercer. Banning Hair Discrimination Emerges as a Racial Justice Issue. (November 29, 2019). https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2021/11/29/banning-hair-discrimination-emerges-as-racial-justice-issue.


How Do I Get Involved in Ensuring the Crown Act is Effective in All 50 States?

In order to have your voice heard through the effort to have the CROWN Act enacted in all 50 states, you can complete the two simple steps listed on thecrownact.com page. When you visit thecrownact.com, you can scroll to the bottom of the page where it states, “you can help be a part of the change by taking these 2 steps. One of the steps has a hyperlink with a pre-filled template to “email your senator.” The second and final step has a hyperlink to “sign the petition.” Getting involved in the CROWN Act Coalition’s efforts to end race-based hairstyle discrimination is literally as easy as counting to two.8

  1. https://www.thecrownact.com.

 

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