California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed into law legislation making the state the first to ban practices that discriminate against natural hairstyles associated with race, especially associated with what the bill describes as “blackness.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the so-called CROWN Act legally protects “people in workplaces and K-12 public schools by prohibiting the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color,” including restrictions on certain hairdos like “Afros, braids, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks – or locs for short.”
Newsom justified the need for Senate Bill 188, which unanimously passed both chambers of the legislature, at a signing ceremony at the State Capital in Sacramento last Wednesday. He referenced a December incident in New Jersey when a white referee told a black high school wrestler that his hair and headgear did not comply with regulations. The 16-year-old was given the option to immediately cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete or forfeit the match. Viral video of a trainer severing several locs from the student-athlete’s head sparked a national public outcry, leading to a state civil rights investigation.
“That is played out in workplaces, it’s played out in schools – not just in athletic competitions and settings – every single day all across America in ways that are subtle, in ways overt,” Newsom said.
The Times reports that the law “adds traits historically associated with race to the state’s list of classifications protected from discrimination, including race, sex, religion, color, national origin, disability and sexual orientation.”
“The way the hair grows out of my head as a black woman is a trait of race,” explained Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author who says she has sported dreadlocks for the last 15 years.
In a speech to her colleagues, Mitchell described how many black Americans are forced to change their natural hairstyles “to conform to a non-inclusive idea of a professional image” in order to gain employment, retain their jobs, or be considered for promotions.
“There is something so deeply personally offensive when you are told that your hair, in its natural state, is not acceptable,” she said. “I have heard from parents whose children have been sent home from school because they were told their hair was unruly.”
Mitchell’s bill maintains that “hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.”
As the L.A. Times recently reported:
The bill states that “blackness” and its associated physical traits — dark skin, kinky and curly hair — have long been equated to “a badge of inferiority” because of racist ideologies. And when black employees conform to narrow, Eurocentric ideas of “professionalism” by altering their appearances, there are serious economic and health consequences because of high costs and harsh chemicals, the bill says.
A spokesperson for Sen. Mitchell told The Daily Wire that the law covers individuals “who wear their hair in a style historically associated with their race,” clarifying that “a white person who wears dreadlocks would have to prove that this is a hairstyle historically associated with their race” to be protected.
CBS News reports that a version of the CROWN Act passed both houses of the New York Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s approval. Lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced a similar proposal.
In February, New York City officially outlawed natural hair discrimination.
The new California law takes effect on January 1, 2020. It was sponsored by the CROWN Coalition, which includes Dove beauty products, the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Color of Change, a progressive racial justice group.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.