Racial injustice can manifest in many different ways, but hair discrimination against Black Americans is often overlooked.
In 42 states across the US, the law doesn’t protect citizens from discrimination for how they choose to wear their hair or represent their heritage.
Following several high-profile cases of hair discrimination in the country, Dove, the organization Color Of Change, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty launched the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act in 2019. The act outlaws discrimination on the basis of hairstyle choices predominately worn by Black people, including Afros, braids, curls, or locs.
Hair discrimination is not an issue that is commonly understood or addressed, Adjoa B. Asamoah, a legislative strategist for the CROWN Act, told Global Citizen.
“Racial discrimination in the form of hair discrimination is more prevalent than many people may think, and anti-Blackness is pervasive and not just in one state or even in the US,” she explained.
Narrow American beauty standards perpetuate the unfair treatment of Black and brown communities for wearing protective hairstyles in several settings, according to Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP and COO of North America Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever.
“In the past we've seen Black women losing opportunities for employment solely based on their hair,” Bracey, who is leading the CROWN Act effort, said in a statement released to Global Citizen. “We've also seen boys and girls being removed from their classrooms for the same reason.”
Workplace policies prohibiting natural hair disproportionately affect Black people and are “likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees more than any other group,” according to the CROWN Act. Black women are twice as likely to feel pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards to be taken seriously at work compared to white women and are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hairstyle. A 2020 study found that Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to get interviews than white women or Black women with straightened hair.
Black people have also been fired, passed over for promotions, and had employment offers rescinded because of their natural hair, which impacts the upward mobility of the individuals and families impacted, Asamoah explained.
“Employment and education opportunities directly impact the economic empowerment of the Black community, and they are being denied due to the way we wear our hair,” Bracey said.
Discrimination against people based on race is known to encourage exclusion and impoverish certain groups of the population who are already disadvantaged by a lack of resources and services. In 2018, 23% of Black people in the US lived in poverty. Racial discrimination in the workplace is one of many systemic barriers that make it difficult for Black people in the US to escape poverty, including lack of access to education, high incarceration rates, and more.
While the CROWN Act has received significant public support, and a shout-out from short film Hair Love’s director Matthew A. Cherry during his Oscars speech, all 50 states have yet to get on board with the legislation.
The CROWN Act is only law in seven states and 25 states have pre-filed the bill.
The US House of Representatives also passed the CROWN Act in September 2020 and is awaiting approval from the US Senate, which would outlaw hair discrimination across the country.
The CROWN Act campaign already has more than 200,000 signatures on an online petition but the initiative is continuing to encourage people to tell their local representatives that they care about the issue.
See a full list below to learn more about the states that have already passed the CROWN Act.
The Connecticut State Senate approved the CROWN Act bill on Monday and Governor Ned Lamont signed the bill into law on Thursday.
For Rep. Robyn Porter, who represents Connecticut’s 94th district and cosponsored the bill, the CROWN Act is a personal one. When she joined the Senate, she was told to pick one hairstyle and stick with it.
In the spirit of #WomensHistoryMonth, today we celebrate Connecticut Representative Robyn Porter.— The CROWN Act (@thecrownact) March 3, 2021
@Porter4DaPeople is making history for championing and passing #TheCROWNAct in CT.👑
Help us put an end to race-based hair discrimination at https://t.co/Ua4K2eW5Nn#PassTheCROWNpic.twitter.com/Cq6uzYkoSE
"Conformity is often a means of survival," Porter told NBC Connecticut.
Maryland passed The CROWN Act in February 2020 and it officially went into effect in October 2020.
“To require people to pretty much alter chemically or in some type of extreme way how their hair grows out of the head seems to me so beyond intrusive,” Maryland House of Delegates member Stephanie M. Smith, (D-Baltimore City) who introduced the bill in the state told the Washington Post. “In the 21st century, it shouldn’t be necessary to make those kind of accommodations so someone can see you as a human or as a professional.”
JUST NOW: The Maryland House of Delegates passes HB1444 aka the Maryland CROWN Act to prohibit discrimination of natural and protective hair styles!!! #CROWNAct#EndHairDiscriminationpic.twitter.com/anEU5OIeCT— Stephanie M. Smith (@Smith4Delegate) March 14, 2020
Virginia became the first Southern state to pass the CROWN Act in March 2020 and the bill went into effect in July 2020. The CROWN Act will help make the state more equitable and welcoming, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement.
"It's pretty simple — if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race, that is discrimination," Northam said. “This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia."
The CROWN Act passed in Colorado in March 2020 and went into effect in September 2020.
“No one should be penalized for the way their hair grows naturally out of their heads,” Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod, who sponsored the bill, told the Denver Post. “We should support and celebrate our diversity, and we should ensure that Colorado is in place to protect folks who are being discriminated against.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signedthe CROWN Act into law in March 2020 and it went into effect in June 2020. The bill amended the Washington Law Against Discrimination so that the term “race” includes traits historically associated or perceived to be associated with race, including hairstyles.
“The way we choose to style our hair is culturally meaningful, and it has no impact on our abilities to show up professionally, hygienically, and naturally at work and school,” Representative Melanie Morgan, who sponsored the bill, told the Suburban Times. “We are sending a message to our children, ‘You are beautiful just the way you are.’”
6. New Jersey
“Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the state of New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement. “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair.”
7. New York
"For much of our nation's history, people of color — particularly women — have been marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their hairstyle or texture," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "By signing this bill into law, we are taking an important step toward correcting that history and ensuring people of color are protected from all forms of discrimination.”
California State Sen. Holly Mitchell led the effort to pass the CROWN Act and incorporate hair-based discrimination associated with race into the state’s anti-discrimination law.
California became the first state to ban hair discrimination when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the CROWN Act into law in July 2019 and the bill officially went into effect in the state in January 2020.
"We believe this is just the beginning of the end to hair discrimination,” Mitchell told KPBS. “It's another chink in the armor of racial discrimination in this country and I'm just proud to be part of the movement.”