It’s illegal to discriminate explicitly based on race, but what about based on hairstyles frequently associated with racial minorities?
According to a study of 1,000 black and 1,000 white women, black women’s hair is 3.4 times as likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” versus white women’s hair. Black women were also 50% more likely than white women to have been sent home from their workplace because of their hair.
(That study was sponsored in part by Dove, a company which has publicly supported the CROWN Act.)
Is a national ban next?
What the legislation does
The CROWN Act would ban discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle or hair texture, “if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.” The title stands for the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act.
To clarify, the bill specifically names several hairstyles more commonly associated with black people, including Afros, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists.
The House version was introduced on December 5 as bill number H.R. 5309, by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA2). The Senate version was introduced a month later on January 8 as bill number S. 3167, by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the legislation helps black people be judged, to paraphrase Dr. King, by the content of their character more than by the color of their skin — or by another physical manifestation of their blackness.
“For far too long, Black Americans have faced senseless forms of discrimination merely because of how they choose to wear their hair,” Rep. Richmond said in a press release. “As states begin to tackle this issue, it is long overdue for Congress to act.”
“Textured hair should never serve as a professional or educational impediment nor should it ever lead to a reprimand of consequence,” Rep. Richmond continued. “In America, we regularly subscribe to the notion that our diversity is our strength. Now is the time to walk the walk, not just talk to the talk.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that discriminating against excessive hairstyles is not actually the same thing as discriminating on the basis of race, which virtually everyone agrees is wrong.
“Banning dreadlocks in the workplace under a race-neutral grooming policy — without more — does not constitute intentional race-based discrimination,” Appeals Court Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in a concurrence to the 2017 case EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions. “Dreadlocks are not… an immutable characteristic of black individuals.”
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted 37 Democratic cosponsors.
It awaits a potential vote in either the House Judiciary or Education and Labor Committee.
The Senate version has attracted one Democratic cosponsor: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled chamber.