CROWN Act Passes House: 189 Republicans Vote Against 'Not Discriminating Against Black People's Hair'

Congress
Ayanna Pressley speaks on the CROWN Act

Today, the House of Representatives voted to pass the CROWN Act (HR 2116), which stands for the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair" and will ban racial hair discrimination. Because for some reason, it is still legal everywhere for schools, places of employment, etc., to discriminate against Black people for their hair.

What this means, should the bill pass the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden, is that employers, schools and other institutions would not be able to refuse to hire someone for having a hairstyle commonly associated with one's race or national origin and cannot specifically ban those hairstyles in the school or workplace or discriminate against those who have them.

For instance, the part of the bill that addresses employment states:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining (including on-the-job training programs) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against an individual, based on the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin (including a hairstyle in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros).

The House passed the bill 235-189, mostly on party lines, because apparently all but 14 Republicans see nothing wrong with this and wish for it to continue unabated.

During discussion of the bill, several Black members of Congress got up and described their own experiences with hairstyle discrimination, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) who talked about how even her own grandmother was afraid to be seen with her in the '60s when she had an Afro, for fear of what it signified to white people, and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA) talking about how a female colleague in the Georgia state Senate had "complimented" her by saying, on a day when she straightened her hair instead of wearing it in braids, that she should keep it that way as it looked so much more "professional."

Prior to this discussion, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts got up and gave an especially powerful speech in favor of the bill.



She said:

I rise today on the floor of the House of Representatives — the People’s House — to declare that Black girls, with our braids, locs, Afros, all forms of natural hairstyles and yes, even our smooth Alopecian bald heads, belong everywhere.

Today, we take an important step towards codifying this fact into law by passing the CROWN Act, legislation I am SO proud to co-lead in partnership with Representatives Watson-Coleman, Moore, Lee, and Omar.

For too long, Black girls have been discriminated against and criminalized for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move through and show up in this world.

In my home state, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, two twin sisters, Deanna and Maya, high school students, were disciplined for showing up with braids. They were given numerous detentions, kicked off the track team, banned from prom, solely for their hairstyle.

In their own words, these scholars and athletes were judged more for their heritage than their homework.
No more.

For those sisters and thousands of other students who face discrimination based on their hair, the CROWN Act is for you.

For recent graduates who fear they must change their hair or cut their locs to secure a job, the CROWN Act is for you.

For our elders who have faced and fought this racism for generations, the CROWN Act is for you.

Just yesterday, the Massachusetts state legislature made history by passing similar legislation.

By passing the CROWN Act today, we affirm — say it loud — Black is beautiful and so is our hair.

Whether you are a student in a classroom, an employee in the workplace, or the next Supreme Court Justice or the speaker pro tempore, you deserve to show up as your full self, rocking your crown with your head held high.

I urge a YES vote for every person who has been asked to shrink or to apologize simply for the beautiful way for which God made them.

It seems difficult to imagine why anyone would oppose something like this, or would not at least be embarrassed to do so publicly. The loudest voice against the bill in the House was Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, who mostly just whined that "a bill about hair" was being considered at all when there were "more important" things to discuss, like inflation and gas prices. Jordan also contended that hairstyle discrimination is sufficiently covered in other anti-discrimination legislation, but as the bill itself points out, judges have not seen it that way.

As a type of racial or national origin discrimination, discrimination on the basis of natural or protective hairstyles that people of African descent are commonly adorned with violates existing Federal law, including provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.), section 1977 of the Revised Statutes (42 U.S.C. 1981), and the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.). However, some Federal courts have misinterpreted Federal civil rights law by narrowly interpreting the meaning of race or national origin, and thereby permitting, for example, employers to discriminate against people of African descent who wear natural or protective hairstyles even though the employment policies involved are not related to workers’ ability to perform their jobs.

Giving credit where it's due, one of those checking Jordan on his "this isn't important, let's talk about important stuff that affects me, a white guy from Ohio!" shit was Republican Congressman Mark Green of Tennessee, who pointed out that this absolutely is a kitchen table issue for Black people, and that if people can't get jobs without changing their hair, that is an economic issue as well.

The other Republican who spoke against the bill was Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, who claimed that the CROWN Act would force employers to allow hairstyles that were "workplace safety issues," telling a heartbreaking story about an imaginary employer who just doesn't want his imaginary employee's scalp to be ripped off.

The judiciary committee’s report on this legislation points out that I and Representative Bentz from Oregon raised the question about that legislation in the markup, that it may prevent employers from regulating hairstyles for workplace safety reasons. If one of the cases involved, I believe, was about long dreadlocks that could become ensnared in machinery on a workplace floor.

Let me tell you what the judiciary committee’s report by the majority says is the answer to that problem. They say that concern is misplaced, because under the long-standing burden shifting scheme applied by courts in Title 7 cases, an employer may defeat a discrimination claim by asserting that workplace safety was a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for taking an adverse employment action against an employee with the burden then shifting to the employee to prove that the asserted reason was a pretext for discrimination. Assuming the employee cannot demonstrate that it was pretextual, the employer would prevail against an employment discrimination claim. How extraordinarily comforting!

If the employee wants to wear dreadlocks and an employer is legitimately concerned for the health and safety of the employee that his scalp might be ripped off by a machine, then the employer can enter into the litigation and certainly couldn’t be arbitrated.

Of course, it would actually be very easy to address that issue without needing to get racist about it, with a simple requirement that long hair be pulled back and secured when working with this horrific scalp-removing machinery, and also that scalp-removing machinery not be used at prom. It's not that hard, actually.

Now that the bill has passed the House, the Senate will vote on its own version of the bill, introduced by Senator Cory Booker. Hopefully it will pass there as well ... unless Sen. Joe Manchin's heart strings are tugged by that story of the imaginary employer who just wants everyone's scalp to be okay. Unfortunately, it could happen.

CORRECTION: This article initially stated that Mark Green was a congressman from Florida. He is in fact from Tennessee.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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