Black hair is not up to your discretion.

Chelsie DeSouza
Dec 25, 2020 @ 11:25 am
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dear senate, pass the crown act
Credit: Unsplash

"Inclusivity" may be a buzzword, but for anyone who has ever felt left out of conversations in the beauty space—it's so much more. In Shades of Melanin, we celebrate Black beauty, support the brands and founders that are fighting for inclusivity in the industry, and unpack the issues that still need to be addressed.

Dear Senate,

Some of you will never know what it feels like to have your hair bar you from a room, to comfort your crying child after they were sent home from school for the braids they proudly left the house with, to change your hair before an interview because of the biases against protective styles and natural hair. However, I know what it feels like, and this discrimination is racist and hurts.

I need you to help change that by voting to pass the CROWN Act. A law that will ban discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle in the workplace and K-12 public and charter schools.  It stands for, Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. A protection that is long overdue, as we should never fear exclusion or missing opportunities based on our hair. The CROWN Act was passed in the House on September 21st and awaits a vote in the Senate, but there has been no forward movement or news of when the vote will be. I’m writing this to ask: why? 

If race is protected in Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity exists to combat discrimination in the workspace, then not swiftly passing the CROWN Act is a loophole for racial discrimination. By not voting to pass this bill, you’re supporting oppression against Black and Brown people, as the fine print between the lines allows employers and educators to exclude people from making it into rooms they are fully capable and deserving of being in.  

I watched in horror as I saw the video of Andrew Johnson, a high school wrestler, being forced to cut his dreadlocks by a white referee in a room of people in order to participate in a match. I’ve heard of young Black girls being sent home from school for their protective braids. Will you allow my three-year-old daughter to grow up in a world that teaches her to be ashamed of her hair? I refuse to accept that.

When non-Black people are applauded for wearing their curls or braids but are seen as unprofessional for how we wear our hair, we have to question the roots of this hypocrisy. If our aesthetics don’t fit corporate America, how are we not to conclude that you don’t think we’re worthy of being in these environments. The double standard can’t be ignored and the implicit bias is clear. 

So, why hasn’t the CROWN Act been fast-tracked? 

Why isn’t racial equality a priority? Even if that’s not what you think your vote against the CROWN Act means, that’s the message you send to the 80% of Black women who are more likely to feel the need to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. 

Hair discrimination is why I grew up struggling to love my curls and kinks. I’ve straightened my hair for as long as I can remember, hiding my natural state as I’ve believed that white-washing my hair was necessary for me to be seen as professional. To this day, I always straighten my hair before an interview, because I never know the possible biases the interviewer might have against textured hair; whether it be conscious or unconscious. The heat damage to my curls has trauma behind it. Does my straight hair make me more palatable? Would I not have gotten the jobs I’ve had if I’d worn my natural curls to work? These are things I’ll never know.  What I do know, however, is that there shouldn’t be stipulations placed on how my hair should look for me to be seen as capable. 

As I embrace my natural hair and see an increase of representation in the media, I struggle to understand why my hair is still controversial. How it can affect how I am viewed and what opportunities I receive. There is no correlation between hair and intelligence, work ethic, or ability. The idea that natural and Black hair can be an area of discrimination speaks to the racial  bias ingrained in this country. The fact that we need this protection is an injustice to so many women, men, and children who deserve to feel comfortable being themselves.

Members of the Senate, I envy that your hair will never be a topic of political debate and that you won’t be 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional for how you style it. I envy that you won't be forced to have a conversation with your child about these prejudices thrust upon them for simply existing as they are. Your vote would allow people of color to feel comfortable wearing their hair how they want, able to release the fear of missing out on opportunities because of their natural hair, protective styles, Bantu knots, and afros. 

The CROWN Act would allow us to reclaim power over our appearance; a choice that should’ve always been our own. Black hair represents our culture and creativity, and it's tied intricately to our identities, too. Our hair tells stories of the resilience and strength of our ancestors. Cornrows were used as maps to freedom, as enslaved people would braid escape routes to communicate with one another in secret. They were also used to hold seeds and rice as a means of survival when traveling. While in the 18th century, Black women were ordered through the Tignon Law in Louisiana to cover their hair in public in order to make it known that although they were free they were still a subordinate class. The law was used to silence the Black women who were building their wealth and adorning their kinks and curls with jewels, rejecting beauty standards and creating their own. Our hair has always held pain and power because it has always been controlled and although we no longer have to cover our hair, without the CROWN Act we might as well. If we feel that we have to tame and a change to fit Eurocentric beauty standards to be accepted, it is essentially the same thing. 

Our hair has been inherited through generations, we shouldn’t have to hide it. My hair is personal. My hair was passed on to me from my parents and their parents before—it’s a part of me. The world should never have grown up with prejudices against how my hair grows out of my head.  Whether I want to straighten my hair, wear it naturally, or put it in Bantu knots; it should be because I want to, not because I worry about how I will be perceived by others. It’s imperative to stop racial discrimination in all forms, and in order to accomplish that, Black hair must be included. We must protect future generations from being brought up in a society that teaches them that their appearance will limit where they can go in life.

I ask you to vote with compassion. I ask you to vote so that women like me may begin to heal. I ask you to vote so Black girls can feel beautiful and worthy, no matter what room they enter. I ask you to vote so that we don’t have to work so hard for self-love while we combat systems that inherently teach us self hate. I ask you to vote so that there are no longer unwritten rules about how we must tame our hair dependent on where we are going. 

Vote to pass the CROWN Act so that I don’t have to pass this trauma onto my three-year-old daughter. 

Will you vote to protect her? I will teach her to love her crown and wear her hair proudly, so please, vote to change the rooms that weren’t made for us. Will you? Will you vote to end hair discrimination?

Sincerely,

A Black mother asking for her daughter to have autonomy and self-love for her hair