California has become the first state to ban hair discrimination, after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill intended to protect black employees and students from pressure to change their natural hairstyles.
As HuffPost reports, Newsom signed the bill on Wednesday, several days after it was passed by the state Assembly. Titled the CROWN Act — an acronym of “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” — the bill prohibits schools and workplaces from enforcing policies that “disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people,” writes the Los Angeles Times. Banning dreadlocks, braids, or Afros, would, for instance, violate the new regulation.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code already prohibit discrimination based on race. But a series of incidents around the country demonstrate why legislators thought it was important to extend existing anti-discrimination protections to include hairstyles.
In 2013, for instance, a top BP executive in California said she was fired after being warned that her braided hair made colleagues “uncomfortable.” Last year, a black high-school wrestler in New Jersey was given a choice between cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting a match; his hair was cut during the meet, as the crowd looked on. A black woman from Alabama had a job offer rescinded after she refused to cut her dreadlocks. Last year, she asked the Supreme Court to hear her case.
“[This issue] is played out in workplaces, played out in schools,” Newsom said upon signing the bill, per HuffPost. “Every single day, all across America, in ways subtle and in ways overt.”
Senator Holly Mitchell, who proposed the bill, tells the L.A. Times, “Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive in the media, in academic settings, and in the workplace. So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional.’”
Over the past few weeks, New York and New Jersey have put forth legislation modeled on the CROWN Act. In February of this year, New York City issued a ban on hair discrimination, saying that targeting people based on their hairstyle was tantamount to racial discrimination.