Having Control Of Your Crown
When I was nine years old, I convinced my youngest uncle to braid my hair like the teenage rap group, Kris Kross. I was proud of my new hairstyle, and couldn’t wait for the rest of my family to see. An older uncle of mine, however, was not a fan. My aunt had just given birth, and before he would allow me into the hospital to visit her, he took my braids out with his bare hands in the hospital parking lot. This came along with a lecture about how he had to cut his afro when he became a police officer and managed to become chief of police in an overwhelmingly white police department. I was angry, hurt, and disappointed by my uncle’s stance. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my uncle was imparting the hair discrimination that he faced onto me.
Since the days of slavery in America, hair discrimination has been used as a way to dehumanize Black people. The enslaved were made to believe that their natural hair was unsightly and ugly. As time progressed, negative stereotypes and connotations by non-black people for what they perceived as kinky, unkept, and worse – “nappy” – hair resulted in professional standards that did not include hairstyles that are common among Black people. As a result, Black people damaged their hair through processes like perming and conking to avoid a natural look. People like my uncle were taught that natural hair and ethnic hairstyles were unprofessional and could keep them from advancing in their careers; a lesson they passed down to later generations.
More recently, we’ve seen media exposing how Black people have experienced being passed over for and even terminated from jobs because of the way they wear their hair. Black children have even been suspended from school for wearing their hair in braids and locs. Enter the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act. Drafted by former California State Senator Holly Mitchell and signed into law on July 3, 2019, the CROWN Act was the first legislation of its kind to combat discrimination based on hairstyle and texture.
California’s CROWN Act began a wave of other states enacting legislation to recognize that tightly curled hair textures and ethnic hairstyles that are natural and common among Black people should not be used as tools of exclusion. To date, twenty-three states have made versions of the CROWN Act law, and even more have legislation that has been filed. At the federal level, the CROWN Act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2022, but failed to pass the U.S. Senate. There are plans to reintroduce the bill.
Being told by your boss, a teacher, or even a family member that a hairstyle or texture is unprofessional or inappropriate can be damaging to a person’s mental health. Being denied a job opportunity or an education can prohibit people from being able to take care of themselves and their families. This is why it is necessary to continue to fight for protections against hair discrimination and to teach people about hair bias. I’m proud to say that my uncle has since come around on his stance against braids, as he’s been able to see his son embrace natural hair by growing locs. Given the status of the CROWN Act in the remaining twenty-seven states and at the federal level, we as a country still have a ways to go.
*Photo by Larry George II on Unsplash