By LaKeshia N. Myers
What type of hair do you have? Its okay if you don’t know—I didn’t either until a cosmetologist told me. After explaining to me the natural hair typing system created by celebrity stylist Andre Walker in the 1990s, I was told I have a 4a hair type. This is important because traditionally Black and Afro-Latinos are between 3-4 on the hair typing chart; meaning we have tighter curl patterns and coarser texture. In workplaces throughout the nation, including our state, grooming standards and policies that were thought to be race-neutral often inadvertently discriminate against people of color because these policies seek to deter ethnic hair from being worn in its natural state. This is why the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act is so important and was heard in the Wisconsin state Assembly during both the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions. It has been reintroduced this session and the bill’s authors hope to receive another hearing and an affirmative vote in committee.
Hair discrimination is not a new issue; historically, the hair of people of African descent has been something that has been viewed as a tool of seduction, an expression of revolution, a source of discomfort, and a trait of control. In the late 1700s Spanish territory Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró aimed to prohibit Creole women of color from displaying excessive attention to dress in the streets of New Orleans. Tignon laws stipulated that Creole women must wear tignons (a type of head covering) or scarf to cover up their hair. This was instituted because it was thought that the hair of mulatto women was too seductive to be viewed by white men who would enter into placage (common law marriage) arrangements of the day.
At the turn of the 20th century, as the first Great Migration was underway, more and more Blacks, eager for better working opportunities, began to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. Men and women alike, began to straighten their hair using pressing combs and temporary straightening agents made of lye, eggs, and potatoes. The invention of Gateau Marcel’s wave irons, improved pressing comb techniques and products by Madame C.J. Walker, and Annie Malone’s Poro hair system gave birth to the multi-billion-dollar Black hair care industry that we know today.
What began in the 1970s and continues today are so-called race-neutral policies that are used to mandate how people of color wear their hair. Policies that prohibit locs, braids, afros, etc. are discriminatory. According to the 2019 Dove CROWN study, Black women are eighty percent more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work. Black women are also 1.5 times more likely to be sent home or know of a Black woman sent home from the workplace because of her hair (Dove, 2019).
In the US, the law in many states does not currently afford protection for race-based hair discrimination, even if the hairstyle is inherent to racial identity. That means, Black women can be denied opportunities for employment or professional advancement without consequence. It means Black children can be denied entry to school or educational opportunities because of their natural hair. That is what the CROWN Act aims to correct. The bill promotes equity and provides equal footing and would level the playing field for people of color in the workplace. It is my hope that Wisconsin will join California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, and Maryland, the seven states that have already passed the CROWN Act.
For more information regarding the CROWN Act, please contact Representative Myers’ office at (608) 266-5813 or visit www.thecrownact.com.