Legislation to protect African Americans against discrimination based on certain hairstyles got an unexpected boost this week from an Academy Award winner.
Introduced by Senator Darius Brown in January, the Delaware CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is designed to prevent students, workers, tenants and others from being subjected to unequal treatment due to braids, locks, twists and other hairstyles or textures historically associated with race.
California, New York and New Jersey have passed a version of the CROWN Act in the last year and another 22 states are currently considering similar legislation.
“Black hair is a fundamental part of the black experience,” said Senator Brown, D-Wilmington East. “This legislation will make it clear that the State of Delaware does not accept our appearance being used as a weapon of harassment and discrimination. We are proud of who we are as African Americans and will not allow ourselves to be shamed by insensitivity to our culture, our history or our hair styles.”
Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL player who wrote and directed “Hair Love,” helped to bring the issue of hair discrimination to national attention on Sunday while accepting the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. The movie, which he wrote and co-directed, tells the story of a black father doing his young daughter’s hair for the first time.
“We wanted to see more representation in animation [and] we wanted to normalize black hair,” he said from the stage at the Dolby Theatre. “There is a very important issue that’s out there. It’s the CROWN Act and if we can help to get this passed in all 50 states it will help stories, like Deandre Arnold’s … stop to happen.”
Cherry was referring to a Texas student who was suspended and not allowed to participate in his high school graduation because his dreadlocks violated the school dress code.
Other incidents of hair-related discrimination have been reported in recent years, including a New Jersey high school wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks at a match, a 6-year-old student who was forced to quit a private Christian school in Florida, an 11-year-old sent home from school in Louisiana for wearing hair extensions and a 19-year-old Banana Republic employee who was ordered to remove her box braids.
A recent study by the Unilever personal care brand Dove found that black women are particularly targeted by workplace discrimination related to their hair. The study found that black women’s hair is more likely to be perceived as unprofessional, while black women are more likely to be made aware of their employer’s workplace appearance policy and more likely to be sent home because of their hair.
“A black woman should not fear showing up with the physical traits that they’re born with. I myself have struggled with this very same issue as a professional. But as a mother to a black daughter with kinky, curly, natural hair, I have to stop and ask myself, ‘Who am I being and what am I teaching my daughter about self-love,’” said Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, the prime House sponsor of Senate Bill 192. “It’s unfortunate we have to propose a law prohibiting discrimination against a person who is showing up as themselves because natural black hair is viewed as unprofessional, unkempt, and unclean. Until we transform the thinking that lies beneath these biases we won’t move forward. We have to dismantle these false, deep-rooted beliefs. Race-based discrimination has no place in Delaware.”
Senate Bill 192 would make it clear that the definition of race in the 31 sections of Delaware code that protect against discrimination includes hair texture and protective hairstyles. Those laws cover equal accommodations, fair housing, jury selection, employment practices, hate crimes, education and numerous industries regulated by the state.
The bill has been placed in the Senate Judicial Committee and is expected to receive a hearing once the General Assembly reconvenes in March.