Earlier this year, Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced Senate Bill 188, the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, to ensure that no Californian will face employment discrimination based on traits associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles.
The Need for Equitable Policy: Why the Professional Repercussions of Natural Hair Matter
As a native New Yorker, I was excited to see one of California’s most prominent Black leaders, Senator Holly Mitchell championing a policy mirroring the New York City Commission on Human Rights Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair. As a Naturalista, I support SB 188 because I deserve to wear my crown without fear of punishment and I believe that SB 188 will move California one step closer to ensuring that every Black person knows so as well.
I started my natural hair journey in the tenth grade when I grew out my chemically relaxed hair and embraced a kinky-curly texture that I hadn’t seen in years. To my surprise, neither my family members nor my peers agreed with my choice of hairstyle. They saw my ‘fro as an affront to Eurocentric beauty standards and were fearful of the professional repercussions I would face for wearing my natural hairstyle in professional and educational settings.
My family and friends were right to be concerned with how my decision could stunt my upward mobility and limit my opportunities. Research conducted by the Perception Institute shows that across all demographics “a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair.” This point is critical to realizing the tremendous impact of hair bias on the everyday lived experiences of California’s girls and women of color, who comprise over 62 percent of the state’s female-identifying population.
Discriminatory grooming policies catalyze an already existing gender wage gap that uniquely harms women of color who are more likely to be low-wage workers and experience unemployment and poverty. While women of color make up 33 percent of the national female workforce, they are twice as likely as their White female counterparts to be low-wage workers and the unemployment rates for Black and Indigenous women are the highest nationally.
My early experience wearing my natural hair taught me a lesson on how anti-Black bias normalizes the shaming and regulation of Black people who dare to wear styles consistent with their natural hair texture in public spaces. Anti-Black racism is a persistent form of discrimination that can be explicit and implicit, individual and structural, and it can manifest through entrenched stereotypes and biases, conscious and unconscious. I do not blame my community for its opposition to my natural hairstyle – I blame institutions that normalize anti-Black culture through policies that fail to protect Black people from discrimination. Communities on the margins need equitable policies, appropriately implemented, that curtail implicit bias and discrimination.
Protecting Californians From Discriminatory Employment Policies
This is why SB 188 is so important – it will ensure that no Californian is deprived of economic opportunities and denied human dignity because of racial stereotyping. While anti-discrimination laws presently protect the choice to wear an afro, afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. SB 188 will ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by amending the Fair Housing and Employment Code (State Gov Code 12926, est. 1980) to include in the protected class of race, “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Furthermore, this bill is critical to setting a statewide standard for defining discrimination in employment on the basis of race where federal anti-discrimination law has failed to do so. In 2017, the United States Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that stated that hairstyles can be changed and therefore should not be considered in discrimination claims. In other words, the court upheld a grooming policy that unfairly required Black employees to alter their hair texture through costly, time-consuming, and often harmful practices in order to keep their job. SB 188 will ensure that no Californian has to choose between gainful employment and healthy hair maintenance.
The CROWN Act follows precedents set by the Marine Corps in 2015, the Army in 2017, and New York State in early 2019 in moving to end anti-Black grooming policies. By advancing the acceptance of natural hairstyles in professional settings, SB 188 will encourage an intentional reform of Eurocentric standards of professionalism in order to ensure and protect diversity in the workplace.
Ways to Support SB 188
If you would like to support SB 188, post a photo on your social media account(s) with your natural hairstyle, using the hashtags #MyCrown and #SB188. Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about SB 188, please contact Motunrayo Tosin-Oni at the office of Senator Holly J. Mitchell at Motunrayo.Tosin-Oni@sen.ca.gov or Asia Alman at The Greenlining Institute at AsiaA@Greenlining.org for more information. All media inquiries should be referred to Ray Sotero at Ray.Sotero@sen.ca.gov.
Asia Alman is Greenlining’s Health Equity Policy Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.