How One Woman Rallied Unanimous Support To Get California To Ban Natural Hair Discrimination
Blavity sat down with advocate Adjoa Asamoah to discuss her role in the creation of the landmark CROWN Act.
June 10, 2019 at 7:05 pm
In an effort to outlaw racial and hair discrimination, California Senator Holly Mitchell and political strategist and racial equality advocate Adjoa B. Asamoah, brought forth a bill that will ban such prejudices in workplaces across California. The bill, SB 188, also affectionately known as the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, is an amendment to the former Fair Employment and Housing Act, offering protections against employers and schools that instate rules requiring “race neutral” hairstyles.
While previous hair-related language in the bill specified afro hairstyles, the CROWN Act is now more inclusive, taking into consideration the men and women who sport twists, dreadlocks and braids.
“While anti-discrimination laws presently protect the choice to wear an afro, afros are not the only presentation of Black hair,” Sen. Mitchell said in a press release. “My bill will help ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by specifying in government code that the protected class of race also includes traits historically associated with race identification, such as hair texture and hairstyles.”
Two witnesses, law professor Wendy Greene and a hairstylist, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee during proceedings and explained the effects this kind of discrimination would have on Black people, such as the physical harm chemical processing has on hair.
“It’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their hair,” Asamoah told Blavity in an interview. “The way our hair grows out of our heads should not be seen as a violation. We have a long history and problematic practice of discrimination in this country, and we have to face it head on. The policing of our bodies is not something that’s new and Eurocentric beauty standards aren’t either. But they do require our attention.”
Asamoah was the first to bring the idea to the senator’s office and says she was inspired to lead on these issues after a letter from Congresswoman Marcia Fudge about the need for natural hair styles to be accepted within the armed forces.
The bill passed in California on April 23 with massive support from the ACLU California, the Anti-Defamation League, California Civil Liberties Advocacy, the California Teachers Association, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the National Council of Negro Women and more, PR Newswire reports.
“I’m a strategist by training and practice, and an organizer by default,” Asamoah said. “I understand the power of people and coalition building. I have leveraged both to get legislation passed in the national’s capital. It’s always amazing to witness that power, as was the case during the committee hearing for this bill. The organizations that I worked to garner support from are powerful. When I tapped my personal network, and reached out to the leaders of entities like Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., The National Council of Negro Women, The U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce, and even, NOBEL Women, they all agreed to support my advocacy and this bill.”
The feat was also publicly supported by Congressman Cedric Richmond, who was the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as Senator Cory Booker, who offered his team's aid as they continue in his pursuit of The White House.
"It's important that Black men support this work," Asamoah said. "While anti-hair discrimination pertains to Black men as well, Black women are disproportionately impacted, and we are their daughters, wives and mothers. Black men and women are linked. What impacts them, impacts us, and what impacts us, impacts them."
News of this bill passing comes one month after New York banned the discrimination of individuals based on their hair in the workplace, school and in public spaces. As more states latch on to progressive measures, others are sure to follow.
“Claiming success in California sets the stage for us to get legislation passed in other states,” Asamoah said. “The prospects of this being a nationwide push look good.”
The CROWN act was largely brought into existence with the help of the CROWN Coalition. The group hopes to diversify laws and offer protections to Black women who wear protective styles, which are also largely often frowned upon in professional settings. They will also pursue similar efforts in other states. Both New York and New Jersey are on board to introduce similar legislation in June.
Those who wish to support the movement can join the Crown Coalition by visiting their website, or by contacting their local state legislature and bringing this legislation to their attention.