CROWN Act would ban race-based hair discrimination in employment, federally assisted programs

WAFF 48's Jasmyn Cornell reporting
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 3:45 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - From braids to afros, hair holds cultural meaning and value for individuals of African descent. However, studies show that for decades, Black people have had to navigate a culture that often labels their natural hair as “unkempt” or “unprofessional.”

Additionally, Black people have been denied educational and employment opportunities for wearing their hair in natural or protective styles, according to researchers and lawmakers. This has led many to alter their hair to avoid hair discrimination in the workplace and schools.

Ida Tyree-Hyche Hill, a lawyer and managing partner of Tyree Hyche & Dixon, LLC, says she was in her 20s when she first experienced hair discrimination.

“I went in the [job] interview. I had my resume, answered all the questions, and everything...,” said Hill. “Then, at the end, [the interviewer] asked me, ‘Why do you wear your hair that way?’ And I wasn’t prepared for that question.”

Hill says after taking the job, she used relaxers to chemically straighten her curly hair for about 50 years.

A 2021 study by Dove shows that race-based hair discrimination starts as early as five years old and can last a lifetime.

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” would ban race-based hair discrimination in employment and against those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, and public accommodations. Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey is the lead sponsor of the bill.

In March, the House voted 235-189 to pass the act. The hair texture and protective styles listed in the bill include locs, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots, and afros.

“As a Black woman who loves my braids, I know what it’s like to feel isolated because of how I wear my hair. No more to Black people being made to feel like we have to cut our locks just to be -- just to get a job,” said Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri.

“This is the last time we say no more to black people being made to feel like we have to straighten our hair to be deemed professional,” she added.

Supporters of the bill acknowledge discrimination is already prohibited under existing federal law; however, they say the crown act will extend those protections.

Fourteen states have adopted the act or legislation inspired by it. According to Kira Fonteneau, an attorney at Barrett & Farahany, Alabamians do not have protections for hair discrimination. If the bill becomes a federal law, they will have the opportunity to litigate that.

Advocates across the state and country are raising awareness of hair discrimination and working to bring the CROWN Act to Alabama.

The CROWN Campaign, a grassroots organization of advocates across the nation who have lived experiences of hair discrimination, says it is amplifying the voices of individuals who are victims of this type of bias.

“We really deal with everyday people, the people that are impacted by this, facing these inequities, and are helping empower and kind of remove those barriers for the people on the ground,” said Shemekka Ebony, Co-Founder of the CROWN Campaign.

The organization says it is advocating for policy change “one city, one state, and one country at a time.” Ebony says one of the first steps in raising awareness is getting resolutions introduced at the city and county levels.

“We’re just saying okay, let us be ourselves. Let us be free to wear our hair and represent ourselves in a beautiful way. I think people have misinterpretation of what this act is, and we just have to keep talking. We have to keep communicating and get the information out there to the people,” said LaShawn Hill, ambassador for the CROWN Campaign of Alabama.

According to Ebony, community members can help this cause and transform the rules of professionalism regarding Black hair by reviewing their workplace appearance policies and making recommendations that are more equitable.

Some of you may be asking the following question: What’s next for the CROWN Act?

Currently, it is under review by the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Joe Biden has already said he supports the bill and would sign it into law.

Copyright 2022 WAFF. All rights reserved.