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Angela Davis
Angela Davis

California set to ban discrimination against natural hair

TextAlex Peters

The CROWN Act would protect against racial discrimination towards dreadlocks, cornrows, braids and other traditionally black hairstyles

California is set to become the first US state to ban racial discrimination based on hair. Last week, The CROWN Act was unanimously approved by the state Assembly after passing the state Senate in April. The bill now heads to California governor Gavin Newsom to be signed into law.

If signed, the CROWN Act – an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair” – will prohibit the enforcement of grooming policies in schools and the workplace that discriminate against hair types and disproportionately affect black people. This includes bans on afros, dreadlocks, cornrows, braids and other traditionally black hairstyles.

The bill would update the definition of race used in laws to also include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” thus extending anti-discrimination protections in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code to include hair texture and styles. In the past, Federal courts have ruled that the law protects black people when they are discriminated against for wearing their hair in afros, but not when they wear it in other natural hairstyles including braids, twists or dreadlocks.

“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated “blackness,” and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority,” the bill says. “This idea also permeated societal understanding of professionalism. Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances... in order to be deemed professional.”

Across the US, there have been countless instances of hair-based discrimination in schools and the workplace against black people. Last year, Chastity Jones from Alabama asked the US Supreme Court to hear her case after she claimed a Mobile Company wouldn’t hire her because of her dreadlocks. In 2013, Melphine Evans sued BP for allegedly firing her because of her braided hair and "ethnic" attire, while Brittany Noble, a news anchor in Mississippi, said earlier this year that she was fired after being told her natural hair was “unprofessional” by her employer.  

Students have also been affected, with many in California being sent home from school due to their curls or shaved heads, while a high school wrestler in New Jersey had his dreadlocks forcibly cut by a referee in order to not forfeit his match last year.

“This is a fundamental issue of personal dignity and personal rights,” said State Senator Holly Mitchell, who introduced the bill, in an interview with the New York Times. “This bill has truly struck a deeply personal chord with people because there is something so deeply personally offensive when you are told that your hair, in its natural state, is not acceptable in the workplace.”

The CROWN Act follows legislation in New York City introduced earlier this year which banned discrimination on the basis of hair or hairstyle at work, at school or in public accommodations. Since then, lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have also proposed similar bills.

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