By J. Coyden Palmer
Black women and men are closer to a civil rights victory in being able to wear their hair in any style while in the workplace or at school. That is because the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, September 21, passed H.R. 5309, also known as the CROWN Act.
The CROWN Act prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities based on hair texture, including hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled, afros, and protective hairstyles, including braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots. These are hairstyles that have been traditionally worn primarily by people of African descent.
“Traditional hairstyles worn by African Americans are often necessary to meet our unique needs, and are a representation of our culture and ethnicity,” said Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who was one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “To require anyone to change their natural appearance to acquire educational resources or a job is undeniably an infringement on their civil rights.”
The CROWN Act was first introduced in California in January 2019 by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in California on July 3, 2019, and officially went into effect January 1, 2020.
As of July 2020, the CROWN Act has been passed in six other states: New York, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado.
Illinois also has a pending bill that is sponsored by Jehan Gordon-Booth (D- 92) from downstate Peoria. The bill is currently in committee.
Recent high-profile events involving people of color and their hair have spearheaded the political willingness to address the issue, which many believe has its roots from America’s racist beginning.
In 2018, a bi-racial high school wrestler from New Jersey was humiliated, after he was forced to cut his twists in order to be eligible to wrestle in a match. Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland got a racist letter that called his dreadlocks “disgusting.” Actress Gabrielle Union, who is married to NBA veteran and Chicago native Dwayne Wade, was critiqued on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” for having a “too Black” hairstyle. Union has filed a discrimination complaint against the network.
“For far too long, Black women have been penalized for simply existing as themselves—that ends today,” said Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) after the vote. “The House just passed the CROWN Act to end hair discrimination. This passage is long overdue, but an important step forward to combat racial discrimination.”
Now, the bill is being considered by the U.S. Senate.
According to by Dove USA, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and Black women are 80 percent more likely than white women to feel they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.
“The CROWN Act is about one simple thing: equality,” said Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL) from south suburban Matteson, who is also a CROWN Act co-sponsor and co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls.
“No one should face discrimination for any reason, least of all their hair. It’s now up to the Senate to also say, ‘discrimination is wrong’ by passing this bill.”