Crown Act Law Makes California 1st State in U.S. to Ban Discrimination Based on Natural Hairstyles
According to cnn.com, this past Wednesday, California became the first state in the United States to ban employers and school officials from discriminating against people based on their natural hair.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Crown Act (aka CA Senate Bill No. 188) into law, making it illegal to enforce dress code or grooming policies against hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists, and locks.
To quote CNN’s article:
Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Holly Mitchell, who introduced the bill earlier this year, said the law is about “inclusion, pride and choice.” “This law protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” Mitchell said in a statement Wednesday. “I am so excited to see the culture change that will ensue from the law.”
Newsom said the law was “long-overdue” but many Americans only became aware of the issue last December when a referee at a wrestling tournament in New Jersey ordered a black high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit his match.
The student had to choose whether “to lose an athletic competition or lose his identity,” Newsom said.
“That’s played out in workplaces, it’s played out in schools — not just in athletic competitions and settings — every single day all across America in ways that are subtle, in ways overt,” Newsom said during a bill-signing ceremony.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, addresses policies against natural hair that are unfair toward women and people of color, the governor’s office said. “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish black employees than any other group,” according to the law.
Mitchell said that until recently an image search for “unprofessional hairstyles” only showed black women with natural hair, braids or twists. “I believe that any law, policy or practice that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a profession — not because of my capacity or my capabilities or my experience but because of my hairstyle choice — is long overdue for reform,” said Mitchell, who observed that she wears her hair in a natural style.
Mitchell said that similar state and federal laws protect against discrimination due to religious hairstyles and head coverings.
Below are highlights from the text of the Crown Act:
SECTION 1. The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated “blackness,” and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.
(b) This idea also permeated societal understanding of professionalism. Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.
(c) Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.
(d) Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.
(e) Federal courts accept that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, and therefore protects against discrimination against afros. However, the courts do not understand that afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. Black hair can also be naturally presented in braids, twists, and locks.
(f) In a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race, and whether they were a second class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race. Therefore, hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.
(g) Acting in accordance with the constitutional values of fairness, equity, and opportunity for all, the Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.
California’s Education and Government codes have been similarly amended, and serve as a template for the other 49 states to adopt.