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  • Vanessa Bartlett

CROWN Act passes the House

On Friday, the House passed a bill which would aim to ban racial discrimination based on hairstyles typically worn by Black Americans. Discrimination would be specifically banned against “those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, and employment.”

The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act) was passed by a vote of 253-189, split along partisan lines. Similar versions of the CROWN Act have been passed already by the states of Massachusetts and California.

It is high time that this type of explicit protection for Black hairstyles be put into law. For decades, we have seen stories about children sent home from school for their hair, and Black job applicants denied positions because of their natural hairstyles.

Black employees have also been fired for their hairstyles, and made to feel that they should change their hairstyle to fit in with their coworkers. This type of discrimination particularly affects Black women: a study by the Perception Institute found that Black women tend to hold more anxieties relating to their hair, and are twice as likely as their white counterparts to experience pressure in the workplace to straighten their hair.

Black hairstyles and the radical power of embracing natural Black hair has been emphasized as a part of the fight for racial equality for decades. In his autobiography, Malcolm X wrote about his experience altering his hairstyle using painful chemical techniques.

He reflected on his choice to alter his hair, writing “I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are “inferior”- and white people “superior” - that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look “pretty” by white standards.”

Many Black Americans have faced similar struggles relating to how they present themselves and their hair. And that struggle can often come not only with a price tag (Black women are estimated to spend 80% more than their white counterparts on cosmetics and beauty supplies) but with health risks as well. Regular use of chemicals like lye involved in straightening black hair have been associated with an elevated risk of breast cancer.

Black people are not the only group who have been victimized by white standards of beauty - skin lightening creams are popular in some areas in Southeast Asia, and big-eye trends are common as well.

There’s also the consistent irony to be found in appropriation of Black aesthetics and styles by white people who often receive praise for “innovating” styles that are taken from Black people who are alienated for wearing them in the first place.

While the CROWN Act is long overdue, it is just one part of the dismantling of racism and bigotry against Black people. Making discrimination based on hairstyle illegal is good - but the fact that it’s illegal may not deter discrimination on its own.

It should also be noted that this act was divisive, and passed along party lines - only 14 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. As it moves into the Senate for another vote, we can expect more debate over the necessity of the bill. Ohio Republican representative Jim Jordan said on the subject, “Fourteen months of chaos and we’re doing a bill on hair.” It’s been well over fourteen months since Black hair has been under attack in our society, and it’s high time that we acknowledged it.

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