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Focus on Black hairstyles changes laws, movies and maybe lives

On Behalf of | Feb 10, 2020 | Discrimination, Employment Law

In some ways, California’s C.R.O.W.N. Act looks like a huge success. Other parts of the country are passing or proposing similar laws, and awareness of the problem the act tries to address is more familiar to the public every day.

On the other hand, the C.R.O.W.N. Act became law in California only last July. There has not been much time to track its long-term benefits even for Californians, much less for the rest of the country.

The basic idea behind the C.R.O.W.N. Act

California’s new law makes it illegal to discriminate against workers because they wear certain hairstyles. Some hairstyles such as Afros, twists, Bantu knots, updos, and locs protect Black people’s hair from severe damage often caused by straightening and other techniques.

Because those techniques result in hair that some workplaces see as “race neutral” or more “professional” than the natural hair of Black people, discriminating against those with natural hair can do real harm to people of color, financially and otherwise.

A suddenly high profile for a right to wear natural hair

During this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, a film about the (for some) surprisingly complex subject of natural hairstyles won an Oscar. About two weeks earlier, a Texas teenager appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to discuss his school’s policy against his natural hair and the school’s suspension of him for refusing to cut off his locs.

New York passed its version of the C.R.O.W.N. Act (also this July) and smaller jurisdictions have also passed theirs, for example, Maryland’s Montgomery County. Lawmakers have proposed versions of the law in many other states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Texas.

Still suits to file, data to gather and awareness to raise

Aside from all the accolades and public shows of support, data on any effects they may or may not have for people of color will probably have to wait until time passes, researchers investigate, and courts consider discrimination lawsuits.

But the Hollywood Reporter published a surprising article just days before “Hollywood’s biggest night,” when the award went to the natural-hair-themed film. The article suggested Black actors still have trouble getting Hollywood productions to hire hairstylists and makeup artists who know what to do with the skin and hair of African Americans.

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