The Student
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The CROWN Act and the roots of hair discrimination

Hair discrimination, a form of social injustice that is discriminatory against hair texture, is a prevalent and worldwide issue that targets black people. “Black people – especially black women’s – hair, is knotted and gnarled by issues of race, politics, history and pride,” writes Marita Golden, an author and academic.

Anti-black hair sentiment has existed in The States for centuries. Enslaved women in the 1700s were forced to cover their hair in head rags while working in fields and enslaved Africans who worked in the “big house” had to mimic the hair of their enslavers by wearing wigs or by shaping their hair to emulate them.

Even free Creole women in cities like New Orleans had to face the Tignon Laws that required them to wear a handkerchief over their head in order to symbolise that they were from the slave class, regardless of their freedom.

The end of the 19th Century witnessed the invention of a hair straightener made to “tame” black hair, popularised by Madam C.J. Walker, a black woman. She went on be the first female African American to become a millionaire.

While some applaud her success in business, most criticise the damaging message it sends: that straight hair leads to economic and social advancement. In the 1920s, straight hair became the way to signify a said “middle class status”.

The first wave of embracing natural hair came about in the 1960s. Activist Marcus Garvey, encouraged black women to embrace the kinks in their hair, his famous quotation being, “don’t remove the kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!”, arguing that copying white Eurocentric beauty standards only denigrated the beauty of black women.

Activist Angela Davis sported an afro as a sign of rebellion against white American beauty standards. Wearing an afro became a weapon in the fight for racial equality.

Unfortunately, hair discrimination is still prevalent in places ranging from professional workplaces, schools, sports, salons and the entertainment industry, to name a few.

2017 – Mya and Dean Cook were twin sisters given detention for their braids allegedly violating school policy.

August 2018 – Six-year-old Clinton Stanley Jr. was sent home since the school’s handbook did not approve of having dreadlocks.

December 2018 – 16-year- old Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks violently cut in the middle of a wrestling tournament by a white referee, who forced him to either cut his hair or forfeit the game.

This video footage became viral and Andrew was forced to live with this trauma and had to feel as if he was constantly watched in his hometown in New Jersey.

January 2020 – 18-year- old DeAndre Arnold was sent home for his dreadlocks, making him miss his graduation and prom.

According to Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and COO of beauty and personal care at Unilever, exclaimed to Glamour Magazine that eighty percent of women reported that they’ve changed their hair from its natural state to fit in a corporate environment.

The CROWN Act, standing for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (SB 188), was sponsored and drafted by Senator Holly Mitchell. The act aims to prohibit such discrimination against natural hair and protective styles in schools and workplaces.

Senator Mitchell uses the example of Andrew Johnson to amplify the reason why the bill becoming a law is essential in battling the issue where black people are “forced to choose between their racial or their ethnic identity and their academic or professional advancement.”

She emphasizes that it certainly wasn’t the first time a case like Andrew’s had taken place, but efforts must be put into place to ensure that there is an end to similar occurrences.

Moving forward with the fight against hair discrimination, the last week has brought in some promising news. So far, the CROWN Act has been passed only at state level in just seven states.

But the fight seems to have paid off, the U.S. House of Representatives have passed bill at Federal level and if approved by Senate and the President its protection should automatically apply to all 50 States.

Today, we are one step closer to banning hair discrimination. However, the fight must rage on.

Hair discrimination is a worldwide injustice that needs to be addressed by all countries and a similar resolution needs to be passed worldwide to not just appreciate diversity but support it. Initiative must be taken to create an environment where race, identity and ethnicity are a part of who we are and appreciated but most of all respected and not subject to disintegration.

Image: Marta Guillen via Pixabay