Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman Credit: U.S. Congress photo/Public Domain photo

New Jersey Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman reintroduced the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act in March 2021. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the bill prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s hair texture or hairstyle if that style or texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.

The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination against those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, and employment. Similar bills have already passed in 15 states and 30 cities. The CROWN Act was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 116 Representatives. A companion bill is sponsored in the Senate by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

“Natural Black hair is often deemed ‘unprofessional’ simply because it does not conform to white beauty standards,” said Watson Coleman. “Discrimination against Black hair is discrimination against Black people. I’m proud to have played a part to ensure that we end discrimination against people for how their hair grows out of their head.”

Although existing federal law prohibits some forms of hair discrimination as a type of racial or national origin discrimination, some federal courts have narrowly construed those protections in a way that permits schools, workplaces, and federally funded institutions to promote anti-Blackness and discriminate against people of African descent who wear certain types of natural or protective hairstyles.

The CROWN Act makes it 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.

“I applaud House Republicans and Democrats joining together today and passing legislation that will allow individuals, especially within the Black community, to wear their hair proudly without fear or prejudice,” said Booker. “In this country, implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large and continue the legacy of dehumanizing Black people.”

Pervasive discrimination against natural hair remains a significant barrier to the professional advancement of people of color, especially Black women. A study found that Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and 80% 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.

Last June, Oregon became the 14th state to pass a law banning hair discrimination, joining a group that includes New Jersey, California, and Nebraska. Versions of the CROWN Act are currently being considered in dozens of other states.

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