The House of Representatives on Friday approved legislation that would codify actions deemed to discriminate against black people who have certain hair styles or textures — such as Afros or cornrows — as federal civil rights violations.
Fourteen Republicans joined 221 Democrats in supporting the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, sending it to an uncertain fate in the Senate. President Biden has expressed support for the measure.
“There are people in this society who think that because your hair is frizzy, it’s braided, it’s knotted, or it’s not slicked blonde and light brown, that you’re not somehow sort not worthy of access,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), the bill’s lead sponsor, told the House during debate. “Well, that’s discrimination.”
The measure asserts that racial discrimination can and does occur due to “long-standing racial and national prejudices and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style.”
“For example, people of African descent are routinely denied education and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which the hair is tightly coiled or curled, or worn in locs, cornrows , twists, braids, Bantu knots or Afros,” the legislation reads.
Coleman cited the case of New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson, who was forced to cut his dreadlocks in 2018 or forfeit his match.
“This bill is vitally important,” she said. “It’s important for young girls and young boys who have to cut their hair in the middle of a wrestling match in front of everyone because a white referee says your hair is inappropriate to compete in your match.”
Most Republicans called the legislation unnecessary, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) saying, “That’s what Democrats are focused on. Fourteen months of chaos and we’re doing a hair bill.
Democrats argued the bill was necessary because federal judges have dismissed civil rights cases on the grounds that current civil rights law does not directly cover discrimination based on hair. Several states have already passed similar measures to ban racial hair discrimination in employment, housing, education and the military.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, touted its passage in the House, saying in a statement that the measure will allow everyone to “wear their hair proudly without fear or prejudice.”
“No one should be harassed, punished or fired for their natural hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage,” he added.