Hair discrimination ban reintroduced by Watson Coleman, Booker
There soon could be a concrete, nationally recognized law against discrimination based on natural hair styles closely associated with race — following the lead of New Jersey and two other states.
U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J. 12th District, is among congressional delegates who have re-introduced the Crown Act, which would include an individual’s style of hair — including tightly-curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, Afros and other styles commonly associated with a race or national origin — within the definition of racial discrimination.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., also announced reintroduction of the CROWN Act in the Senate.
More than two years earlier, a high school wrestler in South Jersey became the center of a racially-charged confrontation, when a referee forced the teen to cut his dreadlocks, alongside the mats at a wrestling match in December 2018.
The treatment of the Buena Regional student, who was of mixed race, by a white referee led to a state civil rights investigation. In September 2019, state officials issued new policies aimed at protecting athletes who wear hairstyles “closely associated with race.”
“Discrimination against Black people because of their hair, which is often based on stereotypes that traditionally black hairstyles are 'unprofessional' or 'unkempt,' is a persistent form of anti-Black racism,” Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter previously said in issuing the state's updated approach.
By December 2019, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, making New Jersey the third state after California and New York to adopt such protections.
Four other states have since followed, according to personal care company, Dove, which co-founded the CROWN effort.
In school settings, “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, including “unapproved” hair styles,” according to Watson Coleman on Twitter.
"Meanwhile, in the workplace, bias against ethnic and natural hairstyles contributes to reduced opportunities for job advancement, particularly for women," she added.
In 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did include hair among its “Compliance Manual on Race and Color Discrimination,” highlighting what could be considered discrimination in the workplace.
“Employers can impose neutral hairstyle rules – e.g., that hair be neat, clean, and well-groomed – as long as the rules respect racial differences in hair textures and are applied evenhandedly,” according to the EEOC guidance.
Such workplace guidelines on natural hair styles have still been challenged successfully in court by employers, as reported by JSTOR Daily, which is what has prompted the action for a clearly defined inclusion in anti-discrimination laws.
Black women report being 30% more likely to receive a formal grooming policy in the workplace — at both the application and orientation phase — according to a 2019 survey of 2,000 women across the country, ages 25-64.
In addition to Watson Coleman, Congresswomen Barbara Lee (CA-13), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Gwen Moore (WI-04) co-led the reintroduction of the CROWN Act.