This post has been updated to reflect changes made to the CROWN Act as of May 2022.
Earlier this year for Black History Month, I wrote about the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The CROWN ACT is a law that was introduced to prohibit race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles like braids, locs (dreadlocs), twists or Bantu knots.
Since then, there have been some major developments regarding the law. On March 18, 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act H.R.2116, with a vote of 235-189 in favor of the bill. The bill is now on its way to the senate.
Why do we need the CROWN Act?
Following Congress’ passing of the CROWN Act, Ohio State Representatives Juanita Brent and Paula Hicks-Hudson introduced HB668, Enact Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act. If passed, the bill would amend certain sections of the Ohio Revised Code, sections 3314.03, 3326.11, 3328.24, and 4112.01, and enact section 3319.48, which would prohibit discrimination against an individual based on hair texture and protective hairstyles. This bill is different than the one introduced in March 2020.
Why do we need the CROWN Act? It will help fill in the gap left by Title VII, which makes it illegal for an employer not to hire you or fire you based on your natural and protective hairstyles, providing and equal playfield for all.
You’re excited to interview for this amazing job. You have all the qualifications and required references, but you notice that the interviewer keeps looking at your hair, the hair you painstakingly spent hours on shaping and styling into neat little braids wrapped into a low bun. As the interview progresses, the interviewer mentions more than once that the company has a workplace appearance policy that requires hairstyles to meet a certain ‘professional’ standard. What does that mean? It means you can’t wear your braids at work.
More than 22 percent of Black women receive instructions about workplace appearance policies during the interview process.
While this scenario is a bit of fiction, many aspects of it have happened to women and men all across our country. In fact, more than 22 percent of Black women receive instructions about workplace appearance policies during the interview process, compared to 17 percent of white women, according to a 2019 DOVE and CROWN Coalition research study.
What is the CROWN Act?
Eight years ago, after years of chemically straightening my hair, I decided to go natural. It was a long, and at times frustrating process, filled with wigs, protective styles, like braids, and gradually morphed into my decision to loc my hair. Because of where I work, I was able to do this without the fear of being reported to human resources that my hair violated workplace dress code, a privilege I do not take for granted, for I know there are others, like me, who can’t. The CROWN Act can help change that.
Hair discrimination isn’t a new concept. It’s been around for centuries in many forms, like New Orleans’ Tignon Laws, which required women of color to wear scarves or head coverings, and the forced hair cutting of indigenous people, all done in the name of assimilation. In order to get a good paying job in an office, many women of color with certain hair textures, like tightly coiled curls, spend hours, and thousands of dollars, straightening or adding weave to their natural hair to fit a certain criterion, the European standard of beauty of long, straight hair.
More than 30 cities and counties have passed similar CROWN Act laws following California, including Ohio’s Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland Heights, and Columbus.
January 2019, California introduced a law called The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs (dreadlocs), twists or Bantu knots. The law was signed into law on July 3, 2019. More than 30 cities and counties have passed similar CROWN Act laws following California, including Ohio’s Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland Heights, and Columbus.
On March 3, 2020, State Representatives Juanita Brent and Paula Hicks Hudson introduced House Bill 535, which, if passed, will create a statewide Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act law prohibiting discrimination against an individual based on hair texture and protective hairstyles. Following its introduction to the state legislature, it was referred to the Civil Justice Committee on March 10, 2020, with its first hearing on June 10, 2021.
Policies enacted to discriminate and oppress one group will eventually be used for other groups.
Why do we need to CROWN Act if we have Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
Policies enacted to discriminate and oppress one group will eventually be used for other groups, which can be seen in school dress codes where the length and color of one’s hair are micromanaged, under the guise of being a distraction to other students, which many people of color, especially women, feel the burden of. The 2019 survey conducted by DOVE and the CROWN Act Coalition found that 80 percent of Black women agreed that they have to change their natural hair to fit in at their place of employment.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, includes multiple segments, called titles, that establish protections against discrimination in public and federally funded settings. Title VII, the Equal Employment Opportunity title, “outlawed employment discrimination by businesses affecting commerce with at least twenty-five employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” A 1976 federal court case, Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance, helped extend Title VII protections to include Afros. The extended protections don’t include other natural hairstyles, such as Bantu knots, cornrows and locs (dreadlocs).
That’s where the CROWN Act comes in. The CROWN Act will help fill in the gap left by Title VII, making it illegal for an employer not to hire you or fire you based on your natural and protective hairstyles, hairstyles primarily worn by people of color like Blacks and Hispanics.
Why is the CROWN Act important for Ohioans?
When we engage in discriminatory practices, such as policing someone’s hair, we lose out on that monetary benefit to our state’s economy. Expecting creativity while stifling it hinders progress and reduces advancement, causing qualified, highly-skilled talents to leave the state for greener and more accepting pastures. Want to maintain and attract talent to our region? Create a place where everyone feels welcome.
 The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-rights-act/epilogue.html