by Natalia Radcliffe
In 2018, a video went viral of a 17-year-old Black male wrestler who had his dreadlocks cut during a wrestling match. He was given an ultimatum: cut the hair or lose the match. The teenager chose to have his dreadlocks cut, and ultimately won the match. However; since then, the video has spurred people to question the situation, wondering if it could have been handled in a different manner.
These and other similar stories were part of the inspiration for Senator Holly J. Mitchell, who represents the 30th senate district, to propose senate bill 188, which has recently been passed into California law as of July 3rd.
Senate bill 188, also known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) act, attempts to protect individuals whose natural hairstyles are not always conducive to what is thought to be a “professional” hairstyle, which the bill describes as “closely linked to European features and mannerisms.”
Within the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, it is illegal to specifically discriminate in the workplace or with housing, based on characteristics such as race.
The CROWN act further expands upon the concept of “race” to “also include traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” which “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”
“We are not talking about rainbow-colored tresses or pink mohawks,” said Mitchell during a policy hearing in March found in a press release. “We are speaking of groomed hairstyles like my locs, that would, without question, fit an image of professionalism, if bias or negative stereotypes of Black people were not involved.”
According to the bill, the common concept of “professionalism” does not include hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists, as those are not typical European hairstyles, so “those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.”
It explains that some of the methods of achieving this can incur damage to the person’s hair in an attempt to be seen as more “professional.”
The bill goes on to say that “acting in accordance with the constitutional values of fairness, equity and opportunity for all, the Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.”
Hence, the CROWN act was created.
The bill’s protection not only includes Black individuals, but other people as well, such as Native Americans or Orthodox Jews, whose natural hair conducive to their race or religion does not represent a European look.
The bill “will ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by specifying in Gov Code 12926 and Ed Code 212.1 that the protected class of race also includes traits historically associated with race identification, such as hair texture and hairstyles,” according to the office of Senator Mitchell.
As of January 1, 2020, all businesses and schools, both existing and new, will be required to comply with the law. All types of schools are included to comply under the law, such as charter schools, all non-religious private schools and all religious private schools, as long as the law does not infringe on the religion’s philosophy.
Santa Clarita’s assembly member, Christy Smith, Democrat, supported the bill. “The CROWN Act is a critical step in eliminating implicit biases, empowering marginalized communities and honoring equity and diversity,” Smith said.
•Senate Bill 188: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB188 •ABC news: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeboOIciwwI • https://sd30.senate.ca.gov/sites/sd30.senate.ca.gov/files/sb_188_crown_fact_sheet_2.pdf