The House of Representatives approved legislation Friday that would codify actions deemed to discriminate against black people who have certain styles or textures of hair — such as Afros or cornrows — as federal civil rights violations.
Fourteen Republicans joined all 221 Democrats in supporting the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, sending it to an uncertain fate in the Senate. President Biden has expressed support for the measure.
“There are folks in this society who think because your hair is kinky, it is braided, it is in knots or it is not straightened blond and light brown, that you somehow are not worthy of access,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), the lead sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor during debate. “Well, that’s discrimination.”
The measure claims that racial discrimination can and does occur due to “longstanding racial and national origin biases and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style.”
“For example, routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots or Afros,” the legislation reads.
Coleman cited the case of New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson, who was forced to cut his dreadlocks in 2018 or forfeit his match.
“This bill is vitally important,” she said. “It’s important to the young girls and the young boys who have to cut their hair in the middle of a wrestling match in front of everyone because some white referee says that your hair is inappropriate to engage in your match.”
Most Republicans called the legislation unnecessary, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) saying, “This is what Democrats are focused on. Fourteen months of chaos and we’re doing a bill on hair.”
Democrats argued that the bill was needed because federal judges have dismissed civil rights cases on the basis that current civil rights law does not directly cover discrimination on the basis of hair. Several states have already passed similar measures aimed at banning race-based discrimination over hair in employment, housing, education and the military.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, touted its passage in the House, saying in a statement that the measure will allow all people to “wear their hair proudly without fear or prejudice.”
“No one should be harassed, punished, or fired for their natural hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage,” he added.