WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) today reintroduced his bill to ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), along with Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Gwen Moore (D-WI), introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
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 of 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, a report 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 promote anti-Blackness and 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,” said Senator Booker. “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. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day across the country. 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.”
“From schools, to the workplace, to mental health and self esteem, to physical trauma, hair is a space where discrimination is having a disastrous fallout for Black communities,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman, a co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. “Black students are disciplined at a rate four times higher than any other racial or ethnic group, and research has found that 70 percent of all suspension disciplines are discretionary, many stemming from dress code violations that include hairstyles. The bias lens that makes curly hair or locs unprofessional – despite the fact it has nothing to do with job performance – holds Black people back from promotions and job opportunities. These are basic and blatant forms of discrimination that the CROWN Act will address, and I am proud to work alongside Senator Booker to ensure everyone can be who they are without fear of reprisal or backlash.”
Pervasive discrimination against natural hair also remains a significant barrier to the professional advancement of people of color, especially black women. For instance, a 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.
In March 2021, Connecticut became the eighth state to pass a law banning hair discrimination, joining a group that includes New Jersey, California, and New York. Versions of the CROWN Act are currently being considered in dozens of other states.
The following Senators are co-sponsors of the CROWN Act: Hirono (D-HI), Brown (D-OH), Coons (D-DE), Warren (D-MA), Markey (D-MA), Baldwin (D-WI), Smith (D-MN), Murphy (D-CT), Padilla (D-CA), Van Hollen (D-MD), Durbin (D-IL), Stabenow (D-MI), Cardin (D-MD), Blumenthal (D-CT), Menendez (D-NJ), Duckworth (D-IL), Warnock (D-GA) and Sanders (I-VT).
Full text of the bill can be viewed here.