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Photography Humphrey Muleba via Unsplash

US state Connecticut is banning discrimination against Black hair

Yay Connecticut

Some good news on a bleak Wednesday morning. Connecticut just became the latest US state to pass the CROWN Act which legally prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture in schools and workplaces. The Connecticut State Senate approved the bill on Monday, thus becoming the eighth state to do so and joining California, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, and Washington.

“Unfortunately, when you have hair that isn't straight and when you have skin that's Black or brown, it isn't simply hair. It's judgment,” Representative Tammy Exum who championed the bill told NBC Connecticut. “I look at the hair of those around me and just accept it as is. It doesn't speak to their ability, their competency, their performance, or their knowledge.”

Governor Ned Lamont who will sign the bill into law in the coming days said on Twitter he is looking forward to it. “This measure is critical to helping build a more equitable society.”

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” seeks to promote safe environments for Black people who wear their hair naturally and in traditionally Black hairstyles including afros, dreadlocks, cornrows, and braids. Last September, the bill was passed by the United States House of Representatives and now awaits approval by the US Senate. If passed, it would legally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle and texture across the country, including in the 14 states where it was filed and it did not pass.

The law would stop incidents happening such as DeAndre Arnold, a senior in Mont Belvieu, Texas, being suspended and banned from attending his high school graduation because of his dreadlocks or high school wrestler Andrew Johnson having his dreadlocks forcibly cut by a referee in order to not forfeit his match.

Discrimination against natural hair is a global issue and campaigners in the UK are currently working to bring in similar legislation as the CROWN Act to this country. Although workplace discrimination on the basis on gender, race or religion is illegal in the UK there is currently no laws specifically protecting against hair discrimination which has led to many incidents of pupils being excluded from school because of their hair.

In 2018, Chikayzea Flanders was told on his first day at Fulham Boys school that his dreadlocks had to be cut off or he would face suspension, while last year London student Ruby Williams was awarded an £8,500 settlement in compensation for being repeatedly sent home from the Urswick School over the course of two years because of her Afro hair.

In an effort to combat this, in December a group of young Black activists launched the Halo Collective, a group working with schools and workplaces to celebrate natural hairstyles rather than penalising students and employees. “Despite hair being a protected racial characteristic under the law, there is a widely held belief that Black hairstyles are inappropriate, unattractive, and unprofessional,” said co-founder Edqina Omokaro. The first company to commit to the code was Unilever UK, parent company of Dove.

Meanwhile, last summer in Jamaica the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a school’s decision to demand that a seven-year-old student cut her dreadlocks to attend classes.