California has upheld its liberal image by officially making ‘hair discrimination’ a thing. “Natural” black hairstyles like dreadlocks and braids are now legally protected there against encroaching “Eurocentric” employers.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has added “hair discrimination” to the categories of discrimination prohibited in the state, signing the measure into law on Wednesday after both the State Assembly and Senate voted unanimously to pass it. The bill protects “braids, twists, and locks” from employers and school administrators who might otherwise seek to impose “Eurocentric norms” on the hair of black Californians, and makes California the first state in the nation to enshrine such protections in law.
“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘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 CROWN Act (short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) reads.
Condemning a “societal understanding of professionalism…closely linked to European features and mannerisms” that forces “those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms” to “alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” it cites “serious economic and health consequences” for those unwilling or unable to tame their hair to European standards.
Acknowledging that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects those with “afro” hairstyles against discrimination, the bill calls out those who “do not understand that afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair.” Explaining that “hair today remains a proxy for race,” the bill equates “hair discrimination” to racial discrimination.
The CROWN Act boasts the unusual distinction of being backed by both civil rights groups and mega-corporations. Beauty products brand Dove, a subsidiary of Unilever, is pushing for CROWN Acts nationwide with a beefy PR campaign that appears to be an effort to racially atone for a 2017 ad that depicted a black woman removing her shirt and turning into a white woman. Color of Change and the National Urban League are also supporting the campaign.
Introduced in California by state Senator Holly Mitchell, who wears her own hair in twists, in April, the CROWN Act was inspired by a 2016 court case in which an appeals court in Alabama found against a woman who lost a job opportunity because of her dreadlocks, ruling that while hairstyles could be “culturally associated with race,” they were not “immutable physical characteristics” and were thus not protected under equal opportunity employment laws. In December, a high school wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks ringside or forfeit the match.