US bill wants to pass law to prohibit racial discrimination in natural hair

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The animation “Hair Love” thrilled the audience with the story of a girl who tries to get her black power for a special occasion. In just over six minutes, the 2020 Oscar-winning short shows the appreciation of the natural hair of black people.

An appreciation you don’t always see in real life — an elementary school in Georgia, USA, for example, in 2019 hung posters of hairstyles that would not be appropriate, including braids and blacks. To combat this type of prejudice, the Crown Coalition movement defends a law that prohibits racial discrimination against natural hair in workplaces and public schools in the country.

The initiative began in 2018, when the cosmetics multinational Dove joined forces with Joy Collective, a social marketing business founded by Kelly Lawson, to develop an approach aimed at ending hair-related discrimination.

Lawson’s agency then brought together a group of black women (she, Esi Bracey, executive vice president of Dove, Adjoa Asamoah, founder of ABA Consulting, and Orlena Blanchard, director of Joy Collective) and other experts, who wrote what ended. becoming the Crown Act.

The name of the proposal, “crown”, in Portuguese, is also an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair.

“For many generations, black people in the US have been subjected to prejudice and discrimination related to their natural hair,” Lawson explains in an email interview with sheet. “Adults were denied employment opportunities, and black children were bullied, ridiculed and retaliated against.”

The coalition includes co-founders Dove, the National Urban League and the Western Center on Law & Poverty, as well as more than 85 community and advocacy organizations.

The first legislation was passed on July 3, 2019 in California. “In a society in which hair has historically been one of many factors that determine […] whether or not a person is a second-class citizen, […] the discrimination of hair that targets hairstyles associated with black people is racial discrimination”, says the text.

The main objective is to prohibit employers and schools from imposing policies that are allegedly neutral on the racial issue, but that end up disproportionately impacting black people.

The measure was introduced by Democratic state senator Holly Mitchell, now Los Angeles County Supervisor. “It’s a fundamental issue of dignity and personal rights,” she said when the rule was passed, according to The New York Times. “There’s something deeply offensive about being told that your hair, in its natural state, is not acceptable at work.”

More and more women have adhered to the hair transition, both white and black, but these end up being discriminated against. According to the 2019 Dove Crown survey, black women in the US are 1.5 times more likely to be dismissed from work because of their hair. The study also pointed out that the natural hair of these professionals is more likely to be seen as unprofessional.

The survey heard 2,000 Americans, 1,000 white and 1,000 black, aged 25 to 64 years.

Since California legislation, 13 other states and 34 more municipalities have passed the Crown Act or similar laws. In New Jersey, the bill that updated the anti-discrimination law was passed a year after a young man was forced to cut his dreadlocks or drop out of a school wrestling tournament he was participating in.

In the state, a first violation can result in a fine of up to US$ 10 thousand (R$ 55.5 thousand, in the most recent quotation), while a second one, within five years, raises the value to US$ 25 thousand (R$ 138, 4 thousand) and a third in seven years means a penalty of up to US$ 50 thousand (R$ 276.8 thousand).

Co-founders of the coalition understand that the mere existence of legislation will not change people’s discrimination, but “[a lei] means you provide a cool resource [contra o preconceito]”, argued Orlena Blanchard to the American magazine Ebony.

For colleague Adjoa Asamoah, the work is more than a cool piece. “It’s the representation of what we can collectively do and how we have to prohibit what hurts black people,” the executive told the publication. “We can’t just wait for people to realize they’ve been wrong with us.”

But as the movement advances in five states that are considering the implementation of the Crown Act, another 24 have already rejected it. For Lawson, part of the resistance is linked to the fact that many people do not believe that hair could be an issue that needs legal protection.

“There is still a great need to educate the general public about the socioeconomic impact of hair-related racial discrimination so that more people advocate and support the need for legislation to end this form of systemic racism,” says the co-founder to sheet.

At the federal level, the law was approved in September 2020 in the Chamber and forwarded to the Senate. Since there has been a change in the legislature since then, the bill was reintroduced in both Houses in March.

“My biggest hope is that it becomes federal law,” Mitchell told Ebony. “Part of this per-state strategy also builds an energy to help Congress understand that it needs to follow the program — or be left behind.”

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