Employees in Virginia are now officially protected against race-based hair discrimination.
The Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (Crown) Act went into effect in the state on Wednesday.
Launched by Dove, the organization Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty in 2019, the bill makes it illegal for someone in the workplace to discriminate against an employee for their hairstyle choice, including Afros, braids, curls, or locs. In some states, the law also prohibits hair discrimination in schools.
Virginia became the fourth US state and the first southern state to pass the law in March. California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, and Washington also signed the act into law in 2020. Tennessee and Georgia pre-filed the Crown Act but it has not yet passed in those states.
“Hairstyle discrimination by employers and educators is a gatekeeping tactic that violates the economic and civil rights of Black people,” Color Of Change's Deputy Senior Campaign Director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike told Global Citizen.
“We applaud Virginia for taking the steps to enshrine protection against hair discrimination into law.”
We've marched. We've let our voices ring. Now it's time for legislative action.— The CROWN Act (@thecrownact) June 29, 2020
To create a respectful and open world for natural hair, we have to work together. United, we can make a difference.
Let’s #PassTheCROWN. Join the movement—https://t.co/Cr2emukkU3pic.twitter.com/MSuLLdXR2f
Western Center on Law and Poverty is also thrilled about Virginia’s decision. Ending hair discrimination is one step toward achieving racial justice in the US, said Courtney McKinney, the center’s communications director. Hair discrimination has caused economic, social, and psychological harm to Black people in the country for decades, she explained.
“People are rising up across the world, specifically calling for this country to look its white supremacist roots in the eye in order to eradicate it,” McKinney told Global Citizen.
“Ending hair discrimination is one piece of this puzzle — it won’t be complete until every state takes the steps to recognize and correct the pervasive harms caused by white supremacy.”
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.
Discrimination against people based on race is known to encourage exclusion and impoverish certain groups of the population who are already disadvantaged by lack of resources and services. 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.
Students across the US have brought hair discrimination to the forefront in recent years. A video of New Jersey high school student Andrew Johnson being forced to cut off his locs before a wrestling meet went viral in 2018. Texas high school student DeAndre Arnold made headlines when he was banned from graduation and prom unless he cut his locs. Director Matthew A. Cherry of the short film Hair Love brought Johnson to the Oscars as his guest in 2020 and advocated for the Crown Act when he received the award.
“There are still 43 states in this country that need to catch up, and we will use the momentum of public pressure to make sure protection against hairstyle discrimination is a national standard,” Ogunnaike said.