WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today unveiled a bill that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. It is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives, and is joined by Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Hair discrimination is widespread and pernicious. In December 2018, a New Jersey student named Andrew Johnson was forced to cut his dreadlocks to avoid forfeiting a wrestling match. A video of the incident went viral and sparked widespread outrage. In October of this year, Penn State football player Jonathan Sutherland received a racist letter deeming his dreadlocks “disgusting.” And as recently as last weekend, it was revealed that actress Gabrielle Union had been critiqued on “America’s Got Talent” for her hairstyle being “too black.”
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 discriminate against people of African descent who wear certain types of natural or protective hairstyles. The Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (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.
“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.”
“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.”
“For far too long, Black Americans have faced senseless forms of discrimination merely because of how they choose to wear their hair. As states begin to tackle this issue, it is long overdue for Congress to act,” Rep. Richmond said. “From Louisiana to New Jersey, textured hair should never serve as a professional or educational impediment nor should it ever lead to a reprimand of consequence. Together, with this bill, we can ensure this form of discrimination no longer goes unchecked.”
“For too long, black women and girls have been told that their hair is too curly, too unprofessional, too distracting,” Rep. Pressley said. “As a Congresswoman, I choose to wear my hair in twists because I want to intentionally create space for all of us to show up in the world as our authentic selves – whether it’s in the classroom, in the workplace or in the halls of Congress. I am proud to support the CROWN Act, which is a bold step towards ensuring that people can stand in their truth while removing the narrative that black people should show up as anything other than who they are.”
“It is disheartening that, in 2019, hair discrimination creates additional barriers for people of color in education and places of employment,” Rep. Fudge said. “Traditional hairstyles worn by African Americans are often necessary to meet our unique needs, and are a representation of our culture and ethnicity. To require anyone to change their natural appearance to acquire educational resources or a job is undeniably an infringement on their civil rights. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of the House companion of the C.R.O.W.N. Act which protects against discrimination based on hair in federally funded institutions and in the workplace.”
“Every day, Black women and men are forced to consider if their natural hair is “appropriate” or “professional” by Eurocentric standards,” Rep. Lee said. “With the introduction of the CROWN Act of 2019, we are making it clear that discrimination against Black women and men who wear their natural hairstyles is wrong and must be prohibited. I began this fight in 2014 when I stood up to the U.S. military’s policy that prohibited servicemembers from wearing natural hair, and I will continue until every woman and man is protected. With the CROWN Act, we can turn the page on forcing cultural norms that penalize Black people and other people of color from wearing their natural hair.”
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.
This year, California and New York passed laws banning hair discrimination, and at least six more states, including New Jersey, are considering similar laws.
“I am grateful Senator Booker is taking this issue up on the federal level. I look forward to seeing this legislation materialize nationally, as there have been several other states passing “The Crown Act”, it is indeed a National movement. Men and women of color have faced hair discrimination for centuries – it is unacceptable, reprehensible and should be illegal. We know that no law can put a complete end to discriminatory practices and ideology, but this legislation sends a powerful message, especially for our youth. It ought be common knowledge and universally known that the manner in which someone’s hair grows naturally from their scalp, should not be deemed as ‘unprofessional’. It’s a shame it has to be written into law, but no one’s ability to progress in society should be contingent on how they choose to wear their hair,” said Senator Sandra B. Cunningham (D-NJ), who is sponsoring New Jersey Bill S-3945.
“As a New Jersey legislator and as a black woman who wears her hair natural, I’m proud to be a part of this movement to protect Americans from systemic discrimination based on racial traits such as hairstyles; and I welcome Senator Booker to the cause,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson County), who is sponsoring New Jersey Bill A-5564, which amends New Jersey’s Law against Discrimination to include the terms race as inclusive of hair texture and protective hairstyles. “I applaud Senator Booker for amplifying our charge in New Jersey to advocate for those nationally who have been forced to change their hair in order to appeal to Euro-centric standards as a condition to pursue economic advancement.”