Back in March of this year, Virginia passed The CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. This piece of legislation makes it illegal to discriminate against someone for wearing their hair naturally in the workplace and at school. Those championing the Act claim that, “a person’s hair is a core part of their identity.” In other words, it does not make sense that some folks face discrimination because of a feature they were born with. However, since professionalism, specifically in the United States, looks at individuals through a Eurocentric lens, those with more European-looking features do not face this discrimination, or even know that it exists. Unfortunately, it does plague American society and must be addressed. Despite many Americans not believing that hair discrimination is a big deal, it creates many opportunity barriers for Black folks, so passing the CROWN Act in every state should be the first step in addressing this.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The CROWN Research Study surveyed 2,000 Black women in the U.S., focusing on those working in offices to see how “societal norms” and “corporate grooming policies” put Black women at a disadvantage. The findings prove that hair discrimination does occur and that it has adverse effects on Black folks. For example, when presented with photos of Black and White women wearing the same hairstyle, the White woman received a 25% higher “job readiness” rating. Also, Black women said they were 80% more likely to change their hair to meet the expectations of their workplace or society, in general. Not only does American society look down on Black women’s natural hair, but it does not view it as professional.

This creates many problems stemming from a decision that Black women must make practically every day: follow norms or keep their identity intact. Based on the study, it does not seem like the two can occur simultaneously. If Black folks choose to stay true to their identities, this may mean that they are passed up for opportunities. After all, if one is not willing to conform to professional standards, someone else is.  Those with features that already meet standards do not have to make sacrifices. The CROWN Act must be passed so that Black folks are not disproportionately faced with opportunity barriers.

Professionalism Favors Whiteness

In the workplace, the standards of professionalism set the example by which every employee should follow to succeed. They govern all things from attire, to mannerisms, to speech, calling for straightened hair, White standard English, and the observation of employees of color under more scrutiny. These standards have been used for years, and continue to be used today, favoring the White employee and pushing the employee of color to assimilate.  How is this fair for non-White employees? By not allowing all individuals to live out their identities and requiring that they conform to the standards of one race, everyone not in that one race is at a disadvantage. Just like the survey above suggests, non-White employees face consequences if they refuse to leave their identity behind. If everyone had to change how they presented themselves, the issue would not be as pressing. However, because all non-White folks are made to follow the White standard, this cannot continue. Black folks specifically suffer the most from this scrutiny, so The CROWN Act needs to be passed to bring about necessary change. Hopefully, then other aspects of professionalism, aside from hair, can receive the attention they need to be dismantled.

The CROWN Coalition

Many groups have come together to push for this important piece of legislation. Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty make up just some of the groups in the CROWN coalition. Since its creation in 2019, it has now expanded to 65 group members all with the ultimate goal of eradicating systemic racism. This is extremely important in today’s society, but their efforts do not end there. The coalition centers its work around four pillars: reduce systemic bias and discrimination, reimagine public safety, dismantle voter suppression, and drive economic equity. All of these areas affect the Black community and they intersect to create the racial injustice visible today. Addressing hair discrimination is both important and necessary, but passing The CROWN Act is so much more than that. It opens the door to other kinds of change that need to occur so that Black folks can live peacefully in the U.S. just like White folks. Put more simply, The CROWN Act serves as the first step in acknowledging the systemic racism in the U.S., and because of this, all states must pass it as soon as possible.

What Now?

Virginia is the first southern state to pass The CROWN Act, and this is a good start in setting an example for all other southern states. Unfortunately, lots of work remains to ensure that 43 additional states pass the legislation. After that, it must be passed federally to make sure that places, such as Washington D.C., receive its coverage. Everyone can play a part in pushing policymakers to pass this legislation. Sign the petition. Express interest in the Act and the need for it by sending letters to state and federal representatives. Inform others of its existence and urge them to take the same steps. No amount of effort is too little in the fight towards racial justice. This one piece of legislation might appear as a small piece in the large puzzle of the solution to systemic racism, but it will help many people with its passage and pave the way for larger change.