The Crown Act: Solving race-based hair discrimination

Local News

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — When you think of discrimination, a few words may come to mind: race, gender and age … but what about hair?

A 2019 Dove study shows a Black woman is 80 percent more likely than a white woman to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.

It also found Black women are one and a half times more likely than white women to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.

Delegate Delores McQuinn (D-District 70) says statistics like that drove her to push a hair discrimination bill called The Crown Act into Virginia law a year ago.

“I think it says to Virginians that individuals should not be discriminated against under any circumstances. But when you’re talking about certain individuals, certain parts of who I am is who I am. That should not hinder me from accomplishing certain tasks that are before me or moving into positions of leadership or for any other reason, ” McQuinn said.

The Crown Act was first introduced in California in January of 2019 and signed into law several months later.

The Crown Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. This means the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

“The way that I wear my hair should not create a situation for me that I’m not accepted,” McQuinn said.

McQuinn tells 10 On Your Side she’s been natural for the last 8 to 9 years. When she first made the transition she says she received some pushback, even from family, but looked up to those younger than her.

“It was the younger generation, when I saw them beginning to accept who they are, wearing their hair natural in these different styles, I’m like ‘you guys are my inspiration,'” said a smiling McQuinn.

McQuinn says hair discrimination is a heartbreaking reality embedded in society.

“My little granddaughter came to me, and she was, like, 4 years old, she said ‘I want to be white with falling down hair’ and that absolutely killed me,” McQuinn said.

“We have got to do whatever we can to help little Black girls feel that kind of self-confidence and self-esteem about themselves,” McQuinn added.

That includes little Black girls such as 13-year-old Nia Saunders, who recalls memories of her hair getting made fun of by another student.

“He was, like, ‘oh she looks like she got electrocuted by lightning’ because I wore my hair out,” Saunders said.

Saunders says her family has always embraced her natural hair, but a quick search online reveals what others have set as the standard.

“I think there is a gap. The difference is if you look up hairstyles in general, you’re going to see hairstyles for white females versus you have to do the extra thing and type hairstyles for black girls,” Saunders said.

Saunders says she personally feels more beautiful with her hair natural than straightened, and she hopes others her age can embrace their hair too.

Working to help girls and women feel confident in their own skin is CEO of Style Queen Beauty, Shalleen Jones. Jones owns a recently-opened salon in Chesapeake that specializes in natural haircare.

“In the last few years, we’ve been getting more information about being natural, I think stylists are coming more to the forefront,” Jones said.

From waves to the kinkiest and coiliest of strands, she believes hairstylists should educate themselves on how to do it all.

“So that women of color, Black women, can just show up exactly how they want to be seen in the world, that could be purple hair, that could be a puff, that could be a wash ‘n’ go, that could be a rod set, that could be an updo with a rod set, but no matter what, she can get a compliment and get right to work “Jones said.

Jones, who’s been natural her whole life, says she has seen more women transitioning to their natural hair in the past few years.

“I would say the biggest reason that I’m seeing is that maybe, childhood from adulthood, they have never seen what the hair that grows out of their head looks like so they don’t know. ‘Do I have a wave? Do I have a curl? Do I have a coil? Do I have a zig zag?…then with everything being so prevalent on social media and you’re seeing women that work with you show up to work sometimes you’re just saying, I can see myself in that woman,” Jones said.

The Crown Act has been considered in 25 states, but as of April 2021, only 11 states had passed it.

“The conversation around The Crown Act is incredible. I think that there’s so much opportunity there for the states that haven’t aligned with the act to kind of understand where a woman of color, where a Black woman comes from when she just wants to be able to show up to her job as herself,” Jones said.

“I encourage legislators across the country where this does not exist to do the same,” McQuinn added.

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