WASHINGTON, DC – US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) officially unveiled federal legislation on December 5, 2019 that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. US 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).
“Discrimination against black hair is discrimination against black people,” said Booker in a press statement. “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.”
New Jersey Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, who is sponsoring legislation to make the term “race” in New Jersey discrimination laws inclusive of hair textures and styles, lauded Booker’s legislation.
“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. For far too long, black Americans have faced senseless forms of discrimination merely because of how they choose to wear their hair. 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. As states begin to tackle this issue, it is long overdue for Congress to act,” Richmond said.
In the statement after announcing the legislation, Booker cited a viral incident last year in which a New Jersey referee forced a high school athlete to cut his dreadlocks on the spot or forfeit a wrestling match. The video sparked widespread outrage, and the referee was later barred from officiating at any more matches. Booker also referenced a Penn State football player who received a letter earlier this year calling his dreadlocks “disgusting,” as well as Gabrielle Union, who was reportedly critiqued for her hairstyles 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, dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros, is a prohibited form of racial or national origin discrimination.
“I am grateful Senator Booker is taking this issue up on the federal level,” said Senator Sandra B. Cunningham (D-NJ). “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.”
Concern about the damage caused by heat and chemical straightening and the support offered by online communities are contributing to the latest iteration of the natural hair movement, with some black women adopting locs, braids, soft curls, and otherwise embracing their cultural heritage.