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Congressional bills aim to scalp hair-linked discrimination
NC Rep. Butterfield backs CROWN Act
Published Tuesday, February 4, 2020 7:06 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

The CROWN Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmon (D-La.) would clarify language that bias based on race or national origin includes hair texture and style.

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A bill before Congress would cut hair-based discrimination at the root.

The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act, sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) would clarify language that bias based on race or national origin includes hair texture and style. Bill supporters, which include Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) say the legislation would provide equity in public programs like education, housing and employment.

High-profile incidents of hair bias – especially against black Americans – have emerged in recent years, such as when New Jersey high school student Andrew Johnson was forced by a wrestling official to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete in a match. A 2019 study of 2,000 black and white women, revealed that black women’s hair is more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional.” The study was sponsored by Dove, a soap and beauty products brand that faced criticism in 2017 for an advertisement that featured a black woman who morphed into a white woman when she took off her shirt.

The study also showed black women are more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and report criticism based on their looks. Four of five respondents said they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.

“This whole issue of hair is necessarily a fashion question, but for black people specifically, it’s about culture and identity,” said Johnson C. Smith University political science professor Terza Lima-Neves, who wears a natural style. … “To say that I have to have my hair straight or on the relaxer, that is not my hair’s natural state. So not only is it infringing on my right to express myself the way I see fit, but it’s actually limiting how I can express myself. This is who I am. My hair is in its natural state this particular way, so it’s more of a question of identity – that part of it being stripped away as well.”

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Hair bias is equally applied in the U.S. as people of all ethnic groups have been challenged to conform to Western styles, which advocates say makes the bill necessary.

“Black women and men have lost job opportunities and been kicked out of school for simply wearing locks, curls, and braids,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said in a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner. “This isn’t just about fashion or style. These incidents illustrate why laws explicitly banning this type of discrimination is necessary.”

Court battles have delivered little relief. An example is a 2010 case involving Chastity Jones, a black woman who landed a job as a customer service representative with an Alabama insurance claims company. When she refused a request to cut her dreadlocks, the offer was withdrawn.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Jones’ behalf, but a district court ruled for the company, determining that its grooming policy wasn’t discriminatory because hair styles are not an “immutable” physical characteristic like skin color. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta upheld the lower court’s decision in 2016.

Jones’ motion to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was blocked.

“Unfortunately, presenting yourself in a natural way can be difficult as an African-American woman,” Moore told the Wisconsin Examiner. “We are more vulnerable to criticism and discrimination at the workplace, and that can hinder our success.”

There have been sporadic policy changes at local, state and federal levels.

Under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, the U.S. military changed its rules regarding women’s hairstyles. Municipalities such as New York City and Cincinnati, Ohio as well as California, New York and New Jersey have followed suit with state laws banning hair discrimination. North Carolina, dominated by a Republican-leaning General Assembly, isn’t one of them.

In addition to the Richmond bill, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation in the Republican-leaning upper chamber, where it faces slim prospects of passage this year.

“This seems to be a national and global trend to police black men and women’s bodies,” Lima-Neves said. “I hope that we come on the right side of history, to be honest with you, but this is the continued work of those who want to police our bodies and to maintain the white supremacist status quo.”


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