By Aswad Walker
Realizing that America has only had a semblance of democracy since 1964 and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, it’s almost understandable that in 2022 there are still people in this country hellbent on discriminating against people because of the way their natural hair grows out of their heads.
On second thought, nah. It’s still stupid. Yet, when Massachusetts passed the CROWN Act in July, the total states in America that passed the anti-hair discrimination legislation stood at 18. That means, 32 states (including Texas) are cool with their laws and business policies declaring Afros, braids and locs “unprofessional.”
The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition in partnership with State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell of California to ensure protection against discrimination against race-based hairstyles (i.e. braids, locs, twists and knots).
Recently, a statewide conversation took place on the CROWN Act and what’s happening to force Texas to see the light.
BUT FIRST, THE STATS
- According to research, Black women are 1½ times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.
- Black girls often experience hair-based discrimination as early as 5 years of age; around the time they are first enrolled in school.
- Black women are 80% more likely to change their hair in order to comply with the office structure
- Forty-five percent of Black girls ages 5-18 in academic environments report experiencing hair bias and discrimination; an all too frequent happening Black families and communities rarely discuss.
- Fifty-three percent of Black mothers whose daughters have experienced hair discrimination say their daughters have experienced it as early as 5 years old.
- Forty-seven percent of Black mothers report having experienced discrimination related to their hair.
- Of the 18 states where the CROWN Act is law, 14 of those are considered Democrat-led and three are Republican-led (Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee)
THINGS TO KNOW
- California was the first state to pass it in 2019.
- Local governments have also passed ordinances resembling the CROWN Act including Cincinnati, Ohio, Montgomery County, Maryland, Salt Lake City, Utah and most recently Austin, Texas stepped forward as the first municipality in Texas to pass the CROWN Act.
- On the federal scene, the US House of Representatives passed a federal version of the CROWN Act in March, but it remains stalled in the Senate.
WHAT PANELISTS SAID
The “CROWN Act Conversation” panel, sponsored by the North Harris County Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Houston Metropolitan Chapter (NC100BW), included Jenell Berry, president NC100BW who provided the stats (above); Sharon Watkins Jones, chief equity officer and director of Texas Racial Equity Collaborative for Children At Risk; State Rep. Ron Reynolds; and Jeri Brooks, entrepreneur, lobbyist and founder of One World Strategy Group LLC.
Why is this important to the state of Texas?
Sharon Watkins Jones: In Texas, we’ve had a couple of highly publicized incidents of hair discrimination. One: DeAndre Arnold in Barbers Hill ISD in Mount Belvieu, which is pretty close to Houston. He was not allowed to participate in graduation or prom because he would not cut his locs. Two: In the workplace, in Dallas, Daquerry Davis had his hair in long braids as was his family tradition for generations of men. They were pulled back. They were neat. He was an employee with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. He was put on paid administrative leave for almost a year because he would not get rid of his long braids.
Is this just a fashion issue?
Jones: What we see is that hair discrimination takes children out of the classroom; it contributes to the disciplinary actions which are part of the school-to-prison pipeline; it also takes people out of the workplace and hurts the Texas economy. when you are removing people from the workplace and when you’re removing students from getting their education you’re limiting the pipeline of folks into the workforce because they’re not getting everything that they need. So, Texas can’t move forward if we’re discriminating against any Texans.
What anti-discriminatory measures have been made at the state level?
In May 2021, time ran out for the CROWN Act on a statewide basis. The Texas House worked right up to its midnight deadline passing bills but didn’t get to the anti-hair discrimination bill. House Bill 392, the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act) by State Rep. Rhetta Andrews Bowers (D-Garland), would have banned educational, employment and housing discrimination on the basis of hair texture or style, including braids, locs and twists.
Jones: There is bipartisan support for the CROWN Act, and it can be passed in a state that is red-ish, purple-ish as Texas is now.
Reynolds: We need other states to get on board. We need Texans to lead. But really, we need a national Congress to act so that it’s enacted in all 50 states, so no matter where you live and no matter what state you move to, you’re protected federally. Just like the civil rights law, it protects people on the basis of their race and their gender, we need legislation to be amended so that it protects people also on the basis of their hair texture so that no longer will we continue to discriminate. This is a very pressing conversation. And we need to get more states, not just the 18, and the City of Houston. We need to be challenging the city. Austin led. Why don’t the City of Houston and others pass ordinances to build momentum? We don’t need to wait until the next legislative session.
Why should folk who don’t have braids or locs care about this issue?
Jeri Brooks: The CROWN Act isn’t just about African Americans and people of color, although I think we probably experience this more frequently than other groups. It’s not only just about the economy, it’s about self-esteem for all Texas children. It’s about having a safe work environment where right now after COVID I think many of us have seen it’s been very challenging to bring people back into the workforce to hire up. And when you have all these impediments to having a safe and good work environment it does not make it easier for employers to bring people back.
You can join the movement to make the CROWN Act a national reality. That movement is being spearheaded online at www.thecrownact.com.
Step one: Email your state senator. The website offers a ready-made letter that you can sign and send. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to call your state senator, as well. According to several national, state-level and city elected officials, few things get lawmakers moving as fast as a barrage of phone calls.
Step two: Sign a petition calling for passage of the CROWN Act.