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For the second time, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would ban race-based discrimination of hair, specifically natural, textured hair and protective hairstyles typically worn by African Americans.
The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act aims to protect individuals from unjust treatment in the workplace, in hiring processes and in schools because of their hair. The legislation failed to get enough support from Senate Republicans to override a filibuster from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
“When the CROWN Act was first introduced during the 116th Congress [in 2020], it passed the House by voice vote without objection,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., who sponsored the legislation in the House, said in a news release earlier this month. “When I reintroduced it last year, it passed the House once again, despite the Republican efforts to delay it. In both instances, Republican Senators stood in the way of the bill’s passage.”
In a recent study, Michigan State University found that Black women suffer the most hair discrimination, and are more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair.
“It's a license to discriminate, specifically against black people,” Amanda Jackson, the campaign director of Color of Change, an organization that advocates for racial equality, told Yahoo News.
Research from Duke University shows that Black women with natural hairstyles like braids, locs and afros are considered less professional than Black women with straight hair.
In an effort to decrease bias and discrimination, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., brought the CROWN Act to the Senate earlier this month, where it was rejected by Paul. While the measure has passed in the House twice, it has been blocked in the Senate each time.
“We will not be deterred by Rand Paul or anyone else. And we’re going to continue fighting and working,” said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League and a founding member of the Crown coalition, which consists of several organizations that advocate for CROWN laws. “It’s disappointing that these legislators, at the federal level, don’t have the sensitivity, or the foresight to really recognize that how one wears their hair is a freedom of expression issue,” he told Yahoo News.
Despite the setback, advocates and Senate Democrats are still pushing for the bill to become law. Following the blockade 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for the Crown Act to be included in the end of year funding legislation.
“So far, we see that it hasn't been included. So it becomes a fight that we have to carry on in the next Congress [and] in the next Congress,” Coleman told Yahoo News.
Advocates say this is a civil rights issue as studies show that 80% of Black women are more likely to change their hair to meet standards often set by employers and schools.
“It's a freedom of expression issue but it’s [also] a right to control your body issue,” Morial said. “And it is a civil rights issue because traditional or natural hairstyles are treated differently.”
Recently, former first lady Michelle Obama expressed that she didn’t feel comfortable wearing her hair in protective styles during her time in the White House.
“As black women we deal with it, the whole thing about do you show up with your natural hair? ... As first lady, I did not wear braids. Being the first — yeah, we had to ease up on the people. ... I was like, it would be easier. Nope, nope. They’re not ready,” Michelle Obama said during an interview during her book tour this month in Washington, D.C.
But some legislators are against the measure. According to Sen. Rand Paul, using hairstyles as a form of racial discrimination is already illegal, therefore the CROWN Act is not necessary.
Yahoo News contacted Paul for comment, and a spokesperson pointed to his remarks on the floor. During the reading of the legislation on Dec. 14. Paul stated, “The Supreme Court found in the 1973 case, McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, that using a pretextual reason as a cover for discrimination is a violation of federal civil rights law and subsequently, the protections sought by this bill are already provided for in federal law.”
But advocates for CROWN legislation have argued that existing laws don’t sufficiently address discrimination based on hair.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who spoke in support of the CROWN Act on the House floor earlier this year, said Senate Republicans’ block of the measure was wrong but it was not surprising.
“Black hair is beautiful, and no amount of racism or ignorance from the other side of the aisle will stop the power of our movement. I won’t stop pressing to ban race-based hair discrimination and I urge the Senate to use any legislative avenue to pass this critical bill and send it to President Biden’s desk,” Pressley said in a statement.
As lawmakers seek to pass a federal measure, 19 states have passed similar legislation that prohibits race-based hair discrimination.
“We’ve had great progress since we began in California. This is what is important. The fact that we've had significant progress state by state, because state by state has proven to be more fruitful than passing national legislation,” Morial said.
Coleman says it’s a shame that race-based hair discrimination is still an issue in 2022 and she believes it will remain an issue in the new year.
‘The way you wear your hair says nothing about your ability to compete in a wrestling match, take a job, go to school, get an education, or be an educator,” Coleman said.