After successfully passing in California and New York with at least six more states pending, the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) may soon be signed into law nationwide—that is, if presidential hopeful Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and several of his congressional colleagues have their way. As reported by Insider NJ, on Thursday, Booker introduced a bill “that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.” Companion legislation was presented to the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond (D-La.), co-sponsored by Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
“Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people,” said Booker, whose home state of New Jersey has been also been considering the law. “Implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day for black people across the country. You need to look no further than Gabrielle Union, who was reportedly fired because her hair was ‘too black’—a toxic dog-whistle African Americans have had to endure for far too long. No one should be harassed, punished, or fired for the beautiful hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage.”
As Insider NJ points out, there are forms of hair discrimination that have long been recognized as correlative with racial or ethnic discrimination, albeit in often vague and narrow terms. The aim of the CROWN Act, initially introduced by state Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Calif.) is to expand and clarify those protections to include the natural and protective hairstyles specific to black culture—including dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros—identifying any discrimination against these styles as a form of racial discrimination which should be prohibited.
“Traditional hairstyles worn by African Americans are often necessary to meet our unique needs, and are a representation of our culture and ethnicity,” said Rep. Fudge in a statement obtained by Insider NJ. “To require anyone to change their natural appearance to acquire educational resources or a job is undeniably an infringement on their civil rights.”
While no one is expecting racial bias or discrimination to be eliminated by legislation like the CROWN Act, its passage at the federal level would be a watershed moment for black Americans, particularly for black women in the workplace, who for decades have been shamed and often mandated to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.
“For too long, black women and girls have been told that their hair is too curly, too unprofessional, too distracting,” said Rep. Pressley. “As a Congresswoman, I choose to wear my hair in twists because I want to intentionally create space for all of us to show up in the world as our authentic selves—whether it’s in the classroom, in the workplace or in the halls of Congress. I am proud to support the CROWN Act, which is a bold step towards ensuring that people can stand in their truth while removing the narrative that black people should show up as anything other than who they are.”