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The CROWN Act Is Gearing Up for its Next Phase in the Senate

When the state of Texas signed the CROWN Act into law in late May, it was a win for the movement to end race-based hair discrimination. The legislation, which aims to protect the right to wear natural and protective hairstyles like braids and bantu knots everywhere from schools to workplaces, has had wins; but it’s experienced ample opposition along its journey, including being blocked from passing federally. But co-founder and lead legislative strategist Adjoa B. Asamoah plans to reintroduce it this fall.

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” has been in the works since 2019. Its co-founders met that year at Essence Festival and were inspired by their experiences and issues they’d witnessed, like a video of a Black student being forced to cut off his locs to continue in a wrestling competition. The group has since advocated for the bill across the nation while developing a coalition of supporters including Dove, National Urban League and Color Of Change.

Senate Republicans blocked the bill from passing on a federal level in December 2022, despite it having succeeded through the House of Representatives.

The co-founders are now preparing to introduce an amended version of the bill, incorporating tweaks that reflect “lessons learned” since it was blocked while still “preserving the integrity of the intentions and making no changes to protections that are extended,” explains Asamoah, who formerly served as national advisor for Black engagement to President Biden. “For example, there have been some valid concerns about workplace safety, so the new bill will reflect that: This bill does not interfere with workplace safety rules that are imposed strictly for safety.”

Discrimination based on race is illegal thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but what most people don’t realize is that hair offers a sort of loophole. This is because race’s legal definition doesn’t acknowledge hair as a trait correlated with race.

“This is not about culture. This is not about hair color. This is not about wearing a headwrap. The CROWN Act specifically and explicitly amends the existing definition of race to include those traits historically associated with it, such as hair texture and protective styles like locs, braids, twists, bantu knots, et cetera,” says Asamoah. “I have to sometimes fight against misinformation because some people think that the CROWN Act is about headwraps or durags.”

She adds that without the bill’s protection, legally sanctioned race-based hair discrimination can have psychological, economic and health-based ramifications.

“There’s a psychological impact to being told that the way you look, the way you were born, the way your hair comes out of your head is not okay. That’s not something that should be accepted anywhere, but certainly not to our children. That damage can be longstanding. Our children should be in school environments that are conducive to what we want them to do, which is to thrive,” she says. 

“In the workplace, Eurocentric standards of beauty and of professionalism have been enforced and reinforced, and it perpetuates the same inequity that I’m trying to tackle,” she continues, noting that grooming policies tend to uphold these standards. Getting passed up for a promotion or being fired due to a hairstyle has economic repercussions. Being pressured to use chemical relaxers, some of which have been linked to cancer, has economic and health impacts, she notes.

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Though 23 states have been won over by the CROWN Act, it has a long road ahead for the 27 states that have yet to adopt it. If passed and enacted federally, the bill would extend statutory protection by amending the existing definition of race as mentioned above.

As she gears up up to reintroduce the bill, Asamoah remains hopeful about its future prospects while conceding that getting the bill passed federally won’t mean the work is over. It’s also important to educate employers, for example, about what the law means and how to actively abide by it. 

“The CROWN act is a legislative fix. Changing laws does not necessarily change hearts and minds,” she explains. Asamoah consults for companies herself and recommends that businesses hire diversity, equity and inclusion experts to help them put effective practices into place. It’s all part of shifting the culture and changing what is a racial and equity issue, she says.

“No matter which hat or, dare I say, which crown I’m wearing, I’m still always going to be an organizer and an activist at my core,” Asamoah says.

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Source: Fashionista.com

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