The CROWN Act: Providing Additional Protection Against Hair Discrimination

About the Author: Jordan Davis is a 1L at American University Washington College of Law. She attended Sam Houston State University for her undergraduate degree and graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Finance and a minor in Banking. She wants to pursue a career in governmental law.

 

Hairism is defined as the preference for or rejection of certain types and textures. Hairism promotes white and European beauty norms and preferences for hair that is longer, straighter, and silkier. [1] The CROWN Act, also known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, seeks to protect people of color from policies that force them to conform to the European-based social norms or certain expectations of “professional” hairstyles. [2] Requiring people of color to conform to these standards is hair-based discrimination that dates back to slavery. [3] Upon arrival to the Americas, Africans’ heads were shaved because removing their hair devalued them as human beings. [4] While enslaved, Black women often wore du-rags or headscarves to hide their “undone” hair from white people so as to not “offend” them with their appearance and to appear more “acceptable.” [5] Enslaved people who had more coarse and kinky hair were often treated more harshly than those with more Eurocentric hair types. [6] Following emancipation, these preferences continued and had the effect of advancing Eurocentric beauty standards. [7]. This idea is exemplified by Black women who choose to style their hair similarly to white women being seen as more “well-adjusted” than Black women who wear more traditional, cultural styles. [8].

These ideas still plague the Black community. In 2019, Dove conducted a study with 2,000 black and non-Black women between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four. [9] The study found that Black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of appearance policies and1.5 times more likely to be sent home by their workplace because of their hair. [10] Black women are also 38% more likely to be judged more harshly on their looks than other women. [11]. Though Black women are more often the target of hair discrimination, Black men and children are also plagued by this discrimination. An additional study completed by Dove also found that 86% of Black teenage girls who experienced discrimination also experienced hair discrimination by the age of 12. [12] Additionally, in Arnold v. Barbers Hill Independent School District, the school district’s policy on hair length kept a black student from participating in regular classes and graduation due to the length of his locs, a hairstyle unique to Black culture. [13]

Currently, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual…because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin” and is the only protection a person has against hair discrimination. [14] However, Title VII still leaves room for interpretation on whether hairstyles fit under race, and Courts are split on the interpretation that this protection offers. Some courts find that firing an employee for donning an afro is racial discrimination while others denied the association between hair and race because they viewed hair as a changeable characteristic. [15] Given that hairstyles could be classified under the existing race category but Courts still waver, The CROWN Act could be the necessary legal protection for people of color to fight hair discrimination.

The federal version of the CROWN Act seeks to prohibit hair discrimination based on hair texture and protective styles in employment, education, federal assistance programs, housing programs, and public accommodations. [16] House Rule 2116 finds that “racial and national origin discrimination can and do occur because of longstanding racial and national origin biases and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style.” [17] House Rule 2116 also states that discrimination based on natural hair or protective styles is a type of racial or national origin discrimination that violates existing federal law. [18] Adding this language recognizes the intertwined relationships between hair texture, hairstyles, and race. Recognizing this relationship and identifying that hair discrimination is a type of racial discrimination protects people at the federal level from hair discrimination. Additionally, the CROWN Act serves as a way to educate the public on the historical prevalence of hair discrimination and the cultural significance of hair. [19] Currently, The CROWN Act is the law in only fourteen states, protecting only the citizens of those states from hair discrimination. [20] A federal law making hair discrimination a form of racial discrimination would protect not only Black people but all people of color in the United States. If passed, The CROWN Act mediates the shortcomings of Title VII addressing hair discrimination and provides a legal avenue for people of color to be protected from discrimination while they wear their natural hair or protective hairstyles.

 

[1] Saran Donahoo, Why We Need a National CROWN Act, 10 Laws 1, 1 (2021).

[2] Margaret Goodman, Wearing My Crown to Work: The CROWN Act as a Solution to Shortcomings of Title VII for Hair Discrimination in the Workplace, 37 Touro L. Rev. 1001, 1002 (2021).

[3] Nina Ellis-Hervey et al., African American Personal Presentation: Psychology of Hair and Self-Perception, 47 J. Black Stud. 869, 869 (2016).

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 871.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] The CROWN Research Study, Dove (2019) https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5edc69fd622c36173f56651f/t/5edeaa2fe5ddef345e087361/1591650865168/Dove_research_brochure2020_FINAL3.pdf

[10] Id. at 4.

[11] Id.

[12]The CROWN Research Study for Girls, Dove (2021) https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5edc69fd622c36173f56651f/t/623369f7477914438ee18c9b/1647536634602/2021_DOVE_CROWN_girls_study.pdf

[13] See Arnold v. Barbers Hill Indep. Sch. Dist., 479 F. Supp. 3d 511 (S.D. Tex. 2020).

[14] The Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(1).

[15] See, e.g., Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., 538 F.2d 164, 168 (7th Cir. 1976); Rogers v. Am. Airlines, 527 F. Supp. 229 (S.D.N.Y. 1981); Eatman v. United Parcel Service, 194 F. Supp. 2d 256, 262 (S.D.N.Y. 2002); EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sol., 852 F.3d 1018 (11th Cir. 2016).

[16] The CROWN Act of 2022, H.R. 2116, 117th Cong. (2021).

[17] Id. at § 2(a)(3).

[18] Id. at § 2(a)(8).

[19] See The CROWN Act of 2022, supra note 12.

[20] Damare Baker, Why Everyone Should Care About the CROWN Act, Washingtonian (Mar. 21, 2022), https://www.washingtonian.com/2022/03/21/why-everyone-should-care-about-the-crown-act/.

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