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What is the CROWN Act?

Posted by Dr. Ellana on


There have been multiple instances in recent years of students being suspended or otherwise disciplined for their natural or protective styles. It was this fact that prompted a coalition of organizations and lawmakers to create the CROWN Act in 2019. The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act was created by Dove and the CROWN Coalition, in partnership with then-State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California, to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools. 


There was a need for an act like this as studies have shown Black students are disciplined at a rate four times higher than any other racial or ethnic group. Further research has found that 70 percent of all suspensions are at school administrators discretion. According to The Brookings Institution: “Penalizing Black hair in the name of academic success is undeniably racist, unfounded and against the law.” 


Job hunting can be difficult for anyone but for Black women, even being perceived as professional can be its own undertaking. When some Black women prepare for an interview with natural hair, they are mostly concerned about how the interviewer would view their hair.  As a result, many style their hair based on societal norms out of fear of not getting the job.  According to a 2019 Dove study, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from a workplace because of their hair, and 80% of respondents said they’ve had to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. 


In June 2019, California made headlines for becoming the first state to outlaw the racial discrimination of individuals based on their natural hairstyles. The bill, SB 188, passed the state Senate in April and passed in a unanimous vote by California’s state assembly on June 27, 2019. The inaugural CROWN Act was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in California on July 3, 2019 and went into effect January 1, 2020. Gov. Newsom saw the need to act after a Black teenage wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match. This hard decision forced the student to choose between two things, “lose an athletic competition or lose his identity,” Newsom told the LA Times. “That is 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.


The CROWN Act states, "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." The CROWN Act also addresses the United States’ history of anti-Black racism and the shortcomings of the previous anti-discrimination legislature. “The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equate "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," the bill reads. 

New York was the second state to introduce and pass The CROWN Act under the leadership of then-State Assemblymember Tremaine Wright and Senator Jamaal Bailey. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed The CROWN Act into law in the state of New York on July 12, 2019, deeming the legislation effective immediately. Also in New York, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), was amended by the CROWN Act to add the definition of race that includes traits such as hair texture and protective hairstyles in order to protect students’ access to their public education regardless of how they chose to wear/style their hair. The CROWN Act, prohibits racial discrimination based on hair texture and protective hairstyles. While DASA protects the right of all students to learn in schools free of discrimination, harassment, and bullying.  It is now clarified that those rights include self-expression through hairstyle.  

New Jersey was the third state to enact The CROWN Act in 2019 when Governor Phil Murphy signed The CROWN Act into law on December 19th, 2019, on the one-year anniversary of the wrestling match where New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson's locs were forcibly cut off. So far only 14 states have enacted The CROWN Act.

In September 2020, the CROWN Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.  As a direct blow to the legislative efforts to reduce hair discrimination, the CROWN Act failed to pass in the Senate and later reintroduced to Congress in March 2021.  Led by a coalition founded by Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change and Western Center on Law and Poverty, efforts are still underway to move federal legislation to reduce hair discrimination. 

You can TAKE ACTION and help end hair discrimination in the workplace and public schools by signing a petition here or send a letter to your U.S. Senators using the template here.

If you are ready to roll up your sleeve and become more involved, please consider introducing The CROWn Act to your state here.

Happy advocating!!!

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