In December 2018, Andrew Johnson, a Black teenager from New Jersey, was given two choices: either cut his locs, or forfeit his high school wrestling match. Johnson picked the first option, and the video clip of the white referee hacking off his hair went viral. But even with all the outrage toward the referee and the school district, Black people are forced to make similar decisions every single day. There are still racist policies and unfair judgements that target Black people, and even more specifically, Black women, for wearing their natural hair or rocking a protective style.
The Crown Act is working to fight against this undue burden. You’ve probably seen The Crown Act in the news, but if you’re looking for a full breakdown on the law, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for a rundown on the bill and how you can get involved in the fight against hair discrimination.
What is The Crown Act and why is it important?
The Crown Act stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural" and it's a law that aims to put an end to race-based hair discrimination (aka when people lose out on work or school opportunities because of their hair texture or style). The co-founders behind the law include Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
If you're thinking "Well, it's just hair—aren't there other issues to focus on?" think again. Hair discrimination has real economic and social impacts. It limits job and educational opportunities, forces people to drop tons of money to conform to white beauty standards, and cements negative stereotypes around Black hair. According to a study, 80 percent of Black women reported having to change their hair to fit into the workplace. Plus, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair.
"Unfortunately, this is yet another clear example of how systemic racism is perpetuated, and we cannot find it acceptable for any of us to have to change our natural identity to gain employment or access to school," Esi Eggleston Bracy, executive vice president and COO of personal care at Unilever North America, tells Cosmo. Pushing for this legislation is one way to drive systemic change and create more inclusive spaces for Black people.
Wait—race-based hair discrimination is still a thing?
Unfortunately, yes. In 2010, Chastity Jones had a job offer from a call center in Alabama rescinded. The reason? Her locs went against the grooming policies and a HR manager thought they looked "messy." Jones refused to chop them off—instead, she linked with the NAACP and the US Equal Opportunity Commission to file a discrimination lawsuit against the call center. The case went all the way up to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most powerful courts in the country. But, ultimately, the court sided with the call center and the ruling still stands today.
Basically, according to the court, a discrimination lawsuit needs to show proof of bias over traits people can't change, like skin color. The Crown Coalition disagrees with this—they believe that race is a social construct and it isn't only defined by skin tone, it's also shaped by hair texture and hairstyles, and these types of rules disproportionately affect Black people.
What states have passed The Crown Act?
So far The Crown Act has been passed in seven states: California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. That means Black women can still be fired or sent home from school for wearing their natural hair or rocking a protective style in 43 other states. However, on September 21st, the US House of Representatives voted yes the bill.
Okay, so what does it mean that the House of Representatives passed the bill?
It means we're one step closer to ending race-based discrimination nationwide. House representatives Cedric Richmond, Barbara Lee, Marcia Fudge, and Ayanna Pressley introduced the bill to the House, and they were among the politicians that commented on the bill's passage on social media. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar wrote that the bill was past due and "for far too long, Black women have been penalized for simply existing as themselves—that ends today." Connecticut Representative Jahana Hayes added that she will "continue to ensure we can use our crown to freely express our cultural identity," while Representative Katherine Clarke wrote, "Discrimination against Black hair is racist. It stops equality in school and the workplace."
The next step would be a vote in the Senate, and if it passes, the bill will land on President Trump's desk and he'll either veto or sign the law.
What can I do to help?
If you want to get involved, you've got some options. You can sign the official petition, write to your state senators, or hit up their phone line to voice your support. While Bracy is excited about the bill passing in the house, she realizes that there's still work to be done. "Our job is not complete. We’re continuing the work to get the Crown Act passed in the Senate so race-based hair discrimination can finally be illegal at the federal level.”
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