The CROWN Act and what it means for ethnic hair

By Raven Gatson, Judson High School

Faux locs, twists, box braids, crochet braids, afro puffs, dreads, and cornrows are some of the hairstyles that have embodied the aesthetic of young black women and men for years. The ties black individuals have to our hair is typically personal, evoking great joy and admiration for the end goal of the entire process.

Looking around at our straight or loosely curled constituents, we realize its not simply our skin color that highlights a distinct difference. Entering into our teen years, the great joy for our natural hair begins to wane. The initial reaction is to place the hair in a careful bun each passing day or for young boys, not allow the hair to grow out. In more common occurrences, young black girls will beg their mother for a relaxer–a chemical treatment to straighten the hair–which can damage the natural curls over time.

Thankfully, times have changed. While the straight hair protective styles (braiding hair to protect the ends and promote hair growth; wigs, crochet, etc.) can be misrepresented as assimilation, there has been a new age movement to love one’s natural hair. Yet, it seems that society is not quite ready for this shift in perspective.

Just last month at Barbers Hill Independent School District, senior DeAndre Arnold was prohibited from participating in graduation or prom based on the length of his dreadlocks.

While not being prohibited from wearing his dreadlocks, Penn State football player Jonathan Suntherland was given a letter from alumni critiquing his dreadlocks as being, “disgusting and certainly not attractive.”

Policies in the workplace have also discriminated against natural hair, as many women and men have been asked to wear their hair pulled back or have it straightened to appeal to the company’s “branding.” An example of this occurred with Chasity Jones who in 2010 was told her dreadlocks had to be cut as they tend to “get messy,” at a job in Mobile Alabama.

Black people not having the ability to wear their hair naturally or in protective styles promotes regression instead of progression. Instead of accepting the cultural and natural distinctions of one’s hair, there are policies that directly/indirectly discriminate against ethnic hairstyles and the black community as a whole.

There is now a law that hopes to change that.

The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act for short, is described as ensuring, “protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes.” The law has been passed in California, New York, and New Jersey. The Act has also been introduced in states such as Oregon, Kansas, Florida, Tennessee, and many more.

The CROWN Act was initially promoted and drafted by California legislatures but became a fully expansive movement with support from Dove, Color of Change, and National Urban League.

For individuals like Deandre Arnold, Jonathan Sutherland, and the women in the workforce, the CROWN Act being passed in all fifty states would be the right step in inclusivity for all.

Outside of the law, more inclusivity is being seen in film and television. A great example of this is seen in the Academy Award-winning film Hair Love, as a black father is thrown into the adorable perils of doing his daughter’s hair. Having young black girls see a dad and their own struggles of their hair portrayed in a short film was impactful and necessary.

Alongside inclusivity, the Act allows young black men and women the ability to not feel shameful about their hair in any context. It shouldn’t feel like a burden to simply exist, especially if it’s out of the individual’s control.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of the black communities’ ability to educate and dismantle the stereotypes that have been perpetuated about ethnic hairstyles for decades.

This story was originally published on The Fuel on February 14, 2020.