Texas' new law, the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, became official on September 1, marking a significant stride forward in the fight against discrimination. This legislation aims to protect individuals in Texas (and 23 other states) from workplace and academic discrimination based on their hair style, texture, and practices. By recognizing the deeply ingrained societal bias against natural hair and challenging long-standing beliefs that disproportionately affect people of color, the CROWN Act not only aims to eradicate discrimination but also promote inclusivity, diversity, and self-expression. This step forward in Texas acknowledges the importance of embracing individuality and empowers people to celebrate their hair with confidence.
What this law means for Black women
The Dove and LinkedIn CROWN Workplace Research Study revealed Black women’s hair is 2.5X more likely to be perceived as unprofessional and over 20 percent of Black women ages 25 to 34 have been sent home from work because of their hair. A quick search on LinkedIn’s #PasstheCROWN hashtag shows nerve-wracking personal experiences Black women have faced. Here are just a few examples.
“There was a point early in my career when I didn't feel like I could wear my hair braided because I was told it looked unprofessional,” said Danita G., diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) leader and people strategist “So I always pressed it to wear it straight so that I could ‘fit in.’ Well thank goodness for growth and maturity because I quickly learned that my hair or hair style does not define who I am as a person or what I am capable of doing.”
“I burned my scalp consistently and voluntarily for almost two decades to achieve straight hair because I could not conceive of a world where my natural hair would be accepted, taken seriously, let alone celebrated for just the way that it grows out of my scalp,” Carice Anderson, author of Intelligence Isn’t Enough: A Black Professional’s Guide to Thriving in the Workplace said.
“Imagine being a new, young nurse preparing for your first professional job and being told your braids are not in compliance with the organization’s dress code,” Adriene Thornton, manager of Health Equity said. “[Now] you have to remove them before your first day of work. I cannot explain the depth of the hurt I felt. The impact extended into my over 30-year career as a nurse with me questioning how I look, dress, and appear to others at work.”
A step in the right direction for the Lone Star state
In Texas, hair discrimination is an all-too-familiar issue. Numerous Black individuals have reported both subtle and blatant racial biases when it comes to their hair, spanning from small micro-aggressive comments to as far as job loss and school suspension.
Emmy-award-winning journalist, Tashara Parker, known widely among Texas viewers as a trusted news source, experienced her own case of hair discrimination when she appeared on-air wearing a protective bun hair style. Rather than submit to the pressures of biased opinion, Parker, in a viral tweet, said “I’m so grateful for those of you who continue to support me. I joked around asking people what they thought of this hairstyle and many of you supported it, but a few said it was unprofessional. It begs the question, who determines what’s unprofessional these days?”
Since then, Parker has advocated on many platforms in support of the CROWN Act, including speaking before eight members of the Texas House of Legislature’s State Affairs committee in Austin on March 22, launching her WFAA Rooted series that takes an in-depth look into the perceptions of Black hair, and creating her own nonprofit organization Loud Women Lead with The Bun Ministry.
The Black Girl Times spoke with Parker one-on-one to gain a deeper understanding. A detail that stood out were the countless messages Parker received from Rooted viewers who shared their personal stories on hair discrimination. “When I say dozens if not hundreds of letters, I am not over exaggerating,” said Parker. “And I still get messages about people and their hair and things they go through at work or at school.” This further supports the notion that it is not a minor issue in Texas, or across the country. Far from it, hair discrimination is a historically unjust phenomena that deserves its own legislation, thus the forming of the CROWN Act.
Giving more context, Parker added “Hair discrimination isn’t about what is deemed professional or not, it is about what is deemed acceptable. When it comes to someone with tight coils or tight curls or afros, that isn’t considered the standard. In fact, it is considered an act of defiance.”
That was precisely the mentality of a public school in Texas. The Legal Defense Fund, a civil and human rights law firm founded by Thurgood Marshall, released a statement (in response to Gov. Greg Abbott signing the CROWN Act) supporting their Texas-based high school clients who had been stopped from participating in school activities, including graduation ceremonies, for refusing to cut their natural locs. The LDF statement said:
“Today’s passage of the CROWN Act is a major step forward in protecting Texans from natural hair discrimination. Like other aspects of Black culture and identity, natural hair is too often unfairly scrutinized and penalized, especially in schools and workplaces, putting people with natural hairstyles at a stark disadvantage. This legislation will have a tremendous effect in Texas as countless individuals will be able to better access employment, housing, and educational opportunities.”
Honoring the unique and powerful journey of Black hair
Under the CROWN Act, Black men, women, and children will no longer need to second guess their hair appearance or question its professionalism. To those who argue that it is just hair, understand this:
It is not just about changing hair, it is about changing who you are as part of a culture, a heritage, an ancestry. And to do so for the sole reason of wanting to be seen as “professional” is a tug-of-war between choosing racial identity or choosing livelihood.
The CROWN Act is liberating an entire population as Black people embrace their natural beauty, their cultural heritage, and their right to authentically be themselves in their personal lives, professional lives, and beyond. That is something definitely worth celebrating. After September 1, Parker and her nonprofit organization will be hosting a large celebration in honor of the CROWN Act officially passing in Texas. Said Parker with upbeat enthusiasm, “We are looking forward to the day.”