The House on Friday passed the Crown Act, which would ban hair-related discrimination.
The measure, H.R. 2116, passed in a vote of 235-189 along party lines. It was introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.
Crown stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, and the act prohibits “discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair.” The bill now goes to the Senate.
The legislation states that “routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities” for wearing their hair in natural or protective hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros.
“Here we are today, standing on behalf of those individuals — whether my colleagues on the other side recognize it or not — who are discriminated against as children in school, as adults who are trying to get jobs, individuals who are trying to get housing, individuals who simply want access to public accommodations and to be beneficiaries of federally funded programs,” Watson Coleman said in remarks on the House floor Friday morning.
This demonstrates the bill’s necessity, she said, because there are people in positions of authority “who think because your hair is kinky, it is braided, it is in knots or it is not straight and blonde and light brown, that you somehow are not worthy of access to those issues.”
“Well,” she added, “that’s discrimination.”
“There’s no logical reason that anyone should be discriminated against on any level because of the texture of their hair or the style of their hair,” Watson Coleman said.
Without naming him, she referred to Andrew Johnson, a Black varsity high school wrestler in New Jersey with dreadlocks who was forced in 2018 to make a choice: cut his hair or forfeit his match.
“This bill is vitally important,” she said. “It’s important to the young girls and the young boys who have to cut their hair in the middle of a wrestling match in front of everyone because some white referee says that your hair is inappropriate to engage in your match.”
The Biden administration this week said it “strongly supports” the Crown Act and “looks forward to working with the Congress to enact this legislation and ensure that it is effectively implemented.” More than a dozen states, including New Jersey and New York, have passed versions of the Crown Act. California was the first state to do so.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, told his colleagues Friday that the bill should have unanimous support.Fourteen Republicans voted for the bill.
“Our military took steps to end hair discrimination last year,” said Hoyer, who is white. “If anybody thinks this isn’t a real issue, obviously the military thought it was an issue. And it was an important enough issue they took action.”
He said it was disappointing that 188 Republicans opposed the legislation when it was recently brought to the floor under an expedited process. Like Watson Coleman, other proponents of the bill mentioned a number of children — directly and indirectly — who drew national attention after they were reprimanded for wearing their hair in braids, dreadlocks or other protective styles.
Before a vote was taken, a number of Black and African American legislators spoke of having been discriminated against because of their hair.
“As a Black woman who loves my braids, I know what it’s like to feel isolated because of how I wear my hair,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said on the House floor. “This is the last time we say no more to Black people being made to feel like we have to straighten our hair to be deemed professional.”
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., said someone had told a previous employer that she was “an embarrassment” because of the way her hair looked.
She accused some of her colleagues, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, of avoiding a conversation about discrimination that disproportionately affects Black people. Jordan said Friday that he wanted to focus on gas prices, inflation and issues of importance “to the American people” and accused Democrats of distracting from those issues.
In response to Jordan’s remarks, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said: “Black people are American people, too. And when you say the American people don’t want it, you cannot exclude Black people. Black people would have this be on the floor. This is a kitchen table issue in Black households.”
By Janelle Griffith