On Thursday, California’s state assembly voted 69-0 to pass the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), a bill that explicitly includes hairstyles and hair textures under its equal rights protections. Senator Holly Mitchell, a Democrat representing Los Angeles, introduced the proposal. This important bill is now awaiting signature from California Governor Gavin Newsom (a Democrat) before it can be signed into law.
The bill makes California the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair. Why is this so meaningful? In short, because discriminatory practices have long been baked into policies that operate under the veil of “professionalism” or “dress codes.”
Without a doubt, this negatively impacts black people—and especially, black women—at work, in the military (there was a ban on dreadlocks until 2017) and even in other situations, like going through airport security. (You might remember that the TSA faced allegations about “racially discriminatory” hair searches, and have since had to change their practices.)
The bill doesn’t dance around this reality, which is nice to see. The bill (basically) wants to update the state’s existing anti-discrimination law to expand on “race.” This means that “traits historically associated with race” would be explicitly protected.
Here’s how the bill breaks it down in its text:
"Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”
And again: Anti-blackness is a systemic problem. When we talk about an agreed upon presentation of “professionalism,” it’s almost exclusively linked to European standards of beauty and presentation. This can, obviously, have a deep impact on one’s body or self-image, but also real-world consequences. Imagine getting sent home from work because your supervisor deemed your hairstyle inappropriate? Or, as a child in school, being disciplined because you chose to wear your hair as it naturally is, and forewent a chemical treatment? If you’re black in the U.S., these scenarios probably aren’t so imagined.
Long-term, people may lose out on job opportunities, promotions, or even getting as much class time in school.
One example? Chasity Jones
, a black woman in Alabama who believes she lost a job opportunity because she (understandably) didn’t want to cut off her dreadlocks. (A federal appeals court eventually voted against her, but may have decided differently, if this sort of bill was in place.)
California is in a minority to have this progressive legislation, but they aren’t alone. New York City recently passed
legislation that protects black hairstyles, including afros, cornrows, and fades. This legislation also aims to give recourse to people who have been discriminated against or harassed because of their hairstyle.
The California legislation also does a great job of including people in public schools, grades K-12. Already, black students are more likely
to be unfairly disciplined, suspended, or expelled from school compared to their white peers. Black girls are more likely
to be sexualized, accused
of violating school dress codes, and labeled as “aggressive.” The CROWN Act is a big step in the right direction, and it’s time for the rest of the country to catch up. Oh—and put serious
funding and effort into supporting black youth (and adults) and dismantling these systemic barriers.