(The Dallas Examiner) – From afros, half fros and afro puffs to braids, corn rolls and twists to kinky curls and Bantu buns, African Americans of all ages have taken on the fight for the right to wear their natural hairstyles in workplaces and schools for many decades. Court records are filled with hair discrimination cases with mixed rulings and judgements.
Hair discrimination doesn’t have an age limit. As many as 53% of Black mothers say their daughters have experienced racial discrimination based on hairstyles as early as 5 years old – and 86% of boys and girls by age 12, according to the 2021 Dove CROWN Research Study for Girls, conducted by the JOY Collective, a Black- and women-owned firm.
Moreover, Black women with coily hair are twice as likely to experience microaggressions in the workplace and are 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional than Black women with straight hair. Additionally, over 20% of Black women ages 25 to 34 have been sent home from work because of their hair, according to the 2023 CROWN Workplace Research Study funded by DOVE and LinkedIn.
The study also revealed that 25% of Black women believe they have been denied a job interview because of their hair.
Lawmakers have been working for the past several years to combat hair discrimination that would create barriers for African Americans.
“In 2019, I got a phone call during my first session in the Texas legislature,” said State Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-113. “And so it was right after the 86th Legislative Session I received a call from a sorority sister, Adjoa Asamoah, and she is one of the co-creators and founders of the CROWN Coalition and of the CROWN Act. She called me from Washington. She asked me what I thought about some of the things that were happening in the news across the nation when it came to hair discrimination.”
CROWN is an acronym “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”
Bowers said she was interested in addressing the issue in Texas but was unsure how it would be received.
“I wasn’t sure it would be something that Texas would be receptive to,” she explained. “And I wasn’t sure if I was the one to carry it. But soon after that, and you know, having staff do a little research and do some digging myself, I found that these types of discriminations certainly were happening in the Metroplex, in our own backyards, even in one of the high schools near me and in the district. And I just felt like it really needed some attention to that, that African American men, women and children needed some better protections.”
Bowers and Asamoah authored the Texas CROWN Act – along with Sen. Borris Miles, D-13, who sponsored the bill. The bill was designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyle associated with race. It was introduced during the legislative session.
“I believe people should not be forced to divest themselves of their racial cultural identity by
changing their natural hair in order to adapt to their workplace, school, or home,” Bowers expressed. “People should not miss out on opportunities or success because of the way they choose to wear their natural hair.”
Bowers recalled that a mother testified during the legislative session on how her son was put in school suspension for wearing his hair in braids which school authorities said was a distraction.
“Across Texas, we see case after case of students receiving punitive disciplinary measures and
missing out on critical classroom time due to their natural hair,” Aicha Davis, member of the Texas State Board of Education, representing District 13, stated in response.
The anti-hair discrimination bill was not passed during that legislative session. Bowers stated she would continue to work to get it passed next session. Each session, when the bill failed, she set her sights on the next session.
This year, during the 88th Legislative Session, Bowers reintroduced the bill as House Bill 567.
“It is so unfortunate that in 2023 we still are experiencing this type of discrimination, but it is real and that’s why certainly necessary adding a bill like House Bill 567 … it really does mean freedom and liberation for a lot of people,” Bowers said. “I cannot tell you how many times on social media or someone will send me a text message via messenger saying, ‘Thank you so much. I can now wear my natural hair naturally and feel comfortable and professional on my headshot.’ They’re just saying, ‘Thank you for making it okay for me to show up as I am.’ When it comes to granting this kind of policy, it doesn’t mean that you’re not groomed properly. That’s one of the misconceptions that people think. You’re certainly taking care of yourself. This is about hair texture and protective styles.”
The bill received support from lawmakers, activists and civil rights groups throughout the state.
For the first time, the bill passed the Texas House of Representatives in April with a 143-5 vote and the Texas Senate in May with a vote of 29-1. On May 27, it was signed into law by the governor.
The law goes into effect on Sept. 1 this year in Texas, which became the 21st state to ban racial discrimination based on one’s hair. To date, there are now a total of 22 states that have passed the bill.
The bill creators expressed their thankfulness as they acknowledged each other’s diligence.
“I’m forever grateful for the servant leadership of Rep. Bowers and Sen. Miles,” Asamoah stated. “They both embody what it means to lead boldly and commit to ushering a bill across the finish line.”
Miles expressed thanked Gov. Greg Abbott for signing the bill, then addressed the women behind it.
“I want to personally thank the CROWN Act Champ, Adjoa B. Asamoah, the architect of this bill for leading the charge, not just in Texas, but the nation, to protect Texans of color from discrimination. I also want to thank Rep. Rhetta Andrews Bowers, the author of the CROWN Act, for spending years promoting this legislation and earning bipartisan support. This new law would not have been possible without these two outstanding and outspoken Black women.”
Bowers believes all states in the U.S. should have the CROWN Act.
“I really think that having passed in all 50 states and at the federal level is what we need, just like we’ve seen Juneteenth go to be a national holiday,” she stated. “Our work is not over. So now it should be our mission to not only make sure that the law is implemented, school district policies are changed to align with the legislation, pushing the other states across the finish line passing their own versions of the product.”
Bowers credited her staff and fellow legislators for their work on passing the bill.
“Without them, none of this would have gotten done,” she said. “In the end, we are all one human race with different backgrounds that should be celebrated.”
Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this article.