Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits, in part, discrimination based on an individual’s race or national origin. This protection, however, has not always extended to discrimination based on an individual’s hairstyle or texture where the style is associated with their race or natural origin.
Until recently, laws in the United States did not extend protection for race-based discrimination due to an individual’s hairstyle or texture, even if one’s hairstyle is inherent to one’s racial identity or national origin. In many states, Black individuals can lose their jobs or be sent home from school simply because their hair is worn as it grows out of their head (i.e., in an afro) or in protective styles (i.e., braids and locs).
Such actions have disproportionately impacted Black women.
Nearly all individuals experience some pressure to conform to certain standards of appearance, both in school or in the workplace. Biases have enabled discriminatory animus based on hairstyles that go against the “norm” to manifest in schools and the workplace.
In a 2019 CROWN Research Study, Dove examined whether societal norms and employment grooming practices disproportionately impact Black women in the workplace. What Dove found was that Black women were 50 percent more likely to be sent home or know of a Black woman who was sent home from work due to their hairstyle.
Dove also found 80 percent of Black women reported changing their natural hair to conform to societal norms or expectations in the workplace. For a significant number of Black women, they have been told their hair was unprofessional or distracting. This, of course, has caused such individuals to be disproportionately disciplined at school, denied entrance into schools altogether, or denied opportunities for employment or professional advancement and without legal consequences.
In response to this, a growing number of lawmakers around the country are supporting for legislation that would specifically prohibit discrimination against Black individuals based on their hairstyles.
The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act seeks to prohibit discrimination in the workplace, schools, public accommodations, and other areas based on those hairstyles work by many communities of colors. This includes, but is not limited to, braids, afros, twists, curls, and locks.
In 2019, California became the first state to expressly prohibit discrimination against Black individuals due to natural hairstyles. Since that time, several states have followed suit and implemented some version of the CROWN Act: California, Cincinnati, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington. States such as Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have introduced such legislation.
On September 30, Kansas City joined this growing list and became among the first cities to enact the CROWN Act. The City Council unanimously passed the legislation, which now expands the City’s anti-discrimination policies. Councilwoman Melissa Robinson noted, “[t]his legislation demonstrates that Kansas City recognizes the importance of racial reconciliation, and we are committed to removing all barriers that are rooted in bias and prejudice.” State legislators in both Kansas and Missouri have introduced similar legislation in their respective bodies.
Given the changing landscape of how hairstyles and textures associated with an individual’s race or natural origin, it is imperative for employers, schools, or other institutions to be cognizant of how grooming policies and procedures may be viewed. Moreover, it is critical to sure any such policies are not discriminatory.