WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has joined Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in introducing the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, legislation to ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) have introduced a House version of the bill.
Right now, existing federal law prohibits some forms of hair discrimination as a type of racial or national origin discrimination. However, some federal courts have narrowly construed those protections in a way that permits schools, workplaces, and federally funded institutions to discriminate against people of African descent who wear certain types of natural or protective hairstyles. The CROWN Act changes that by making clear that discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles associated with people of African descent, including hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros, is a prohibited form of racial or national origin discrimination.
“No one should face discrimination in the workplace or in school for wearing their hair the way it grows naturally,” said Senator Brown. “We’ve heard too often of black workers or students targeted and treated unfairly, simply because of their hair texture and hairstyle. If we truly value the dignity of work, we cannot accept discrimination of any kind. This legislation will make a much needed clarification that will help ensure civil rights in our schools, workplaces and federally funded institutions are protected.”
“Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people,” Senator Booker said. “Implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day for black people across the country. You need to look no further than Gabrielle Union, who was reportedly fired because her hair was ‘too black’ — a toxic dog-whistle African Americans have had to endure for far too long. No one should be harassed, punished, or fired for the beautiful hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage. Our work on this important issue was enhanced by the tireless advocacy of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, Crown Coalition advocate Adjoa B. Asamoah, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.”
Pervasive discrimination against natural hair also remains a significant barrier to the professional advancement of people of color, especially black women. A recent study found that black women are 50 percent more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and 80 percent of black women feel the need to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. The same study found that black women’s hair is three times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.
Cincinnati City Council voted in October to make it illegal to discriminate against people with natural hair, making Cincinnati the second city in the country to pass such a law.