Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American students who attend a charter school in Massachusetts, served two weeks in detention, were kicked off their sports teams, and barred from attending a prom. Their offense? They wore their hair in braids.
According to the school’s dress code policy, students are not permitted to wear “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inches in thickness or height is not allowed).
This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions* are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist.”
Since afro hair is naturally thick and grows upwards (often exceeding the stipulated 2 inches), this means that Maya and Deana cannot wear their hair in its natural state. Policies like this are not just irrational but racist as they target a specific group of people – black women and girls.
This is just one of the many experiences of black people who have been denied jobs or educational opportunities because of their hair. Black children have been removed from classes and Black adults have been fired from jobs because of laws that forbid natural hairstyles such as afros, braids, Bantu knots, and locs.
The CROWN Act Is Passed
On July 3, 2019, California took the first step in ending hair discrimination against black people by enacting the CROWN Act. The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act forbids racial hair discrimination, which is the denial of educational and employment opportunities due to hair texture or protective hairstyles.
So far, 17 states have passed the legislation. In some counties, a version of the CROWN Act has been implemented.
While this is a step in the right direction, the CROWN Act needs to also be enforced in the remaining 33 states. Commendably, the CROWN Act was passed by the United States House of Representatives on March 18.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, it will make hair texture and style discrimination illegal at the federal level.
Why Should a Federal Version of the CROWN Act be Enacted?
It is necessary that a federal version of the CROWN Act be passed for the following reasons:
State laws do not provide equal protection to all Black women because they only apply to the residents of those states.
A federal CROWN Act challenges the execution of discriminatory hair policies. By defending people’s rights to regulate their bodies, including their hair, the federal CROWN Act will offer legal protection for Black women’s natural hair, which can also serve to lessen implicit bias against these hairstyles.
A federal CROWN Act will also unequivocally define Black hair prejudice as a type and component of racial prejudice and, thus, as a civil rights issue.
Only a federal CROWN Act that covers all states can establish an enduring and enforceable link between racism, civil rights, and hair that will aid Black women in their efforts to reclaim their crowns. We are sick and tired of seeing stories like this and this. This needs to be passed NOW in all 50 states.