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Discrimination against Black hair may soon be illegal in the US

A legislation that seeks to protect against bans on traditionally Black hairstyles is moving to the Senate once again

The US House of Representatives has, for a second time, successfully passed the CROWN Act – legislation that would legally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture across the country.

The act was first passed by the House in September 2020 but was stalled by a Republican-led Senate. It was reintroduced to the House of Representatives last month, where Republicans again tried to block it before it was ultimately passed on Friday (March 18). The Democratic-led House voted 235-189 in favour of the legislation, which proposes to ban race-based hair discrimination in schools, workplaces and against those participating in federally-assisted programmes, housing programmes, and public accommodations.

“Natural Black hair is often deemed ‘unprofessional’ simply because it does not conform to White beauty standards,” Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “Discrimination against Black hair is discrimination against Black people.”

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” seeks to protect against bias based on hairstyle and hair texture including bans on afros, dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, Bantu knots, and other traditionally Black hairstyles. The legislation will now move to the Senate for consideration once again, where it will need to be approved by at least 51 of the 100 Senate representatives in order to pass.

Only 14 of 188 Republican House representatives joined Democrats in support of the bill, with many objecting with the argument that current focus should be on issues such as inflation and high gas prices. “14 months of chaos and we’re doing a bill on hair,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said. “I hope we can actually focus on things that matter to the American people.” However, the Biden administration this week said it “strongly supports” the CROWN Act and “looks forward to working with the Congress to enact this legislation and ensure that it is effectively implemented”.

The law is already in effect in several individual states including California, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Colorado, and Maryland. Connecticut passed the act last March, and Massachusetts recently advanced its version of the CROWN Act in the state House, which now heads to the state Senate.

If the act is approved by the US Senate and signed into law by the President it would prohibit discrimination nationwide 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 so as not to forfeit the match.

Just last week, a high school in Florida issued a formal apology after telling Black honour student Jacob Rush that he had to cut his dreadlocks in order to be allowed to participate in his graduation ceremony.

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

Five-year-old Josiah Sharpe was excluded from playtime and then banned from school because of his fade, which the school deemed to be too “extreme,” while 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. Tyrese Francis was banned from lessons and put in isolation at Mossbourne Victoria Park Academy because his fade was deemed inappropriate. 

In 2020, 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.

Elsewhere, 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, while Tyrone Marghuy was refused entry to Achimota School in Ghana because of his dreadlocks. Marghuy decided to sue the school on grounds of discrimination based on his religion, Rastafarianism.