Locs, braids, Afros, twists. Black hairstyles on black bodies have always been highly-policed in America. Black hair is revered for its uniqueness and creativity and simultaneously reviled for the perceived offense of having naturally curly or coiled hair that distinguishes it from other races.
In 2019 the CROWN Act, or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, was signed into law in California, banning race-based workplace discrimination based on one’s traditional and natural hairstyles. Similar legislation has now found its way to Maryland and Baltimore.
We’ve come a long way from the Tignon Laws of the late 18th century that forced Creole women of color to cover their hair with a scarf to mark their enslaved status, or the repeated legal attempts in the Supreme Court in 1981 and again in the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2016 to ban hair discrimination.
In our fair city where the majority of the population is African American, the CROWN Act could eradicate the negative impact on the economic state of Baltimore residents who may have been excluded from employment opportunities, and hence the means to contribute to their family household, simply because of the way nature dictates their hair growth.
It is my hope that such legislation is extended to our schools as well where the policing and denigration of black bodies begins all too soon. Such a bold act could ensure that young girls and boys do not have the added burden of coiffing their natural hair to others’ standards and could instead focus on their education.
The CROWN Act offers an opportunity to end this archaic, discriminatory practice, and remind all that those dead cells growing from your scalp should never be such an offense to others that they affect your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Dr. Kimberly Moffitt is Associate Professor and Chair of the Language, Literacy, and Culture Doctoral Program at UMBC