These women say the CROWN law on hair discrimination is long overdue

Shenia Jackson had no intention of drawing attention to her hair.

As a college student, Jackson wore her hair in micro braids as she transitioned from relaxed straight hair to its natural curly state.

Victoria Crosdale

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WUSF Public Media

USF student Emily Hernandez says the CROWN Act is long overdue.

“As a young woman in a college environment, having much more aggressive remarks about my hair, I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” said Jackson, a natural hair advocate who now owns a salon. “So often I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure what kind of bribe I would get.

She said the aggressive remarks even came from a teacher, who told Jackson she was “a girl who doesn’t know which side of her hair is longer on which day.”

“He kind of nervously shifted the conversation to something else and made a joke, ‘You’ve got these crazy hairstyles, but they look good on you,'” Jackson said. “I don’t like how it made me feel. It was embarrassing, but what can I say? And at the end of the day, I needed to graduate.

“And we all stopped…I didn’t even know what to say.”

USF student Emily Hernandez had a similar experience.

“I wore my hair in a puff, and so did my friends,” Hernandez said. “Teachers would say, ‘This is distracting,’ or the people behind you can’t see. So next time put it away and do a neat style.”

It is these types of comments that have prompted calls for the creation of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle.

About the Crown Act

On March 18, the House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), a federal measure that would ban hair discrimination in schools and workplaces. It is currently being considered by the Senate.

Similar hair discrimination bills have repeatedly been considered by the Florida Legislature, but have yet to be enacted.

These days, the fact that we have to legislate how my hair grows out of my head is, you know… I don’t even have the words for it.

Shenia Jackson

USF student Emily Hernandez says this bill is long overdue.

“I think the need for the CROWN Act is just as irritating as ever. It’s annoying that we need crown law in the first place,” Hernandez said. “We can talk about hair, but we also have to talk about why we have to talk about hair, which is race.

“It just makes me angry, but then we need it. And I think the CROWN Act is so important.”

Celyne McKenzie, USF graduate and traveling hair braider, added, “I think it’s an amazing idea…it’s just kind of frustrating that everyone can walk into the world as it is. is.”

This facet of institutionalized racism has caused many people of color to question their natural appearance, wondering: Am I going to be judged because of my hair today? Will I be turned away? Will I be despised by others?

Hernandez, who is working on her master’s degree in women’s and gender studies in the fall and plans to pursue a doctorate. in Women’s Sexuality and Africana Studies, says she’s “grateful that I didn’t face peer pressure in the usual things that black girls go through with their hair.”

Jackson said the CROWN Act is a good idea, but “at the same time, nowadays, the fact that we have to legislate how my hair grows out of my head is, you know…I don’t don’t even have the words for it.”

Celyne McKenzie smiling, sitting on a bench

Victoria Crosdale

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WUSF Public Media

Celyne McKenzie said she was glad she “didn’t have peer pressure into the usual things that black girls go through with their hair.”

A matter of race

Still, Hernandez said, the issue of hair goes way beyond styling.

“We can talk about hair, but we also have to talk about why we have to talk about hair, which is race,” Hernandez said. “When black women or black men wear their hair a certain way or your edges aren’t laid, or you wear a weave and all these different things, it’s like a reflection of our whole race.”

A new wave of understanding has been pushed to the fore by the Natural Hair and Black Lives Matter movements. And other factors have caused a resurgence of black people wearing their natural hair.

Braiding hair is “an art form, but it’s also a way of protecting what we’ve done, to protect what we naturally came to this earth with,” McKenzie said.

We can talk about hair, but we also have to talk about why we have to talk about hair, which is race.

Celyne McKenzie

Hair textures are graded on a scale from straight and fine (1A) to curly and coarse (4C). Landing higher on the spectrum, black hair tends to be very thick, dry and unmanageable.

Protective styles are more than just cosmetic. Locks, braids, twists, and weaves protect curly hair from the damage that comes with constant maintenance.

Instead of celebrating these differences, black people are supposed to meet the demands of straight hair. and straightening black hair is not an easy task, both physically and financially.

A painful and costly process

At age 8, Hernandez remembers having her hair straightened for her first communion.

“My hair was very long and very thick. And my parents were like, we gotta make your hair look good,” Hernandez said. “I had to sit in the kitchen and get my hair hot combed, which burns your scalp…there should never be anything this hot near your scalp.”

She reflected on what it felt like to have to live up to the societal norm of straight hair.

Shenia Jackson looking into a camera

Victoria Crosdale

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WUSF Public Media

Shenia Jackson said, “For every individual, CROWN Act or no CROWN Act, you’re going to have to celebrate who you are.”

“Just feeling comfortable, which is one of…it’s a human thing to want to fit in,” Hernandez said.

“It’s a bit difficult,” McKenzie said. “Because when it comes to black hair, you will always suffer some form of damage because our hair is so special and unique.”

Relaxer is a chemical that smoothes the patterns of curly hair. As stated in an article by hairclub.com“This process leaves hair weak, brittle and prone to breakage. It can even burn your skin, causing permanent scalp damage and leading to hair loss.

Additionally, other research shows:

  • Global marketing research firm Mintel valued the black hair care industry at around $2.5 billion.
  • A 2019 article by Nielsen stated that “African Americans dominate the ethnic hair and beauty products category, accounting for nearly 90% of overall spending.”
  • From 2021, Neilsen reported that African Americans are “2.4 times more likely to purchase hair treatments compared to the average beauty product shopper.”

McKenzie says it’s “discouraging” and she’s “not at all surprised” that the CROWN Act hasn’t passed yet. But, she says, “the tides are changing.”
Yet the passage would not only provide some freedom in how people of color can present themselves legally in schools and workplaces, it would give them the freedom to reflect their culture — and be themselves.

“Black people, we start owning a lot of stuff and we have a lot of successful businesses,” McKenzie said. “And in those companies, we’re going to hire people no matter what they look like.”

Jackson added, “A couple of comments were made, and it would have been nice for someone to say, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s just a moment’ and that doesn’t reflect your whole experience. And I think that for every individual, CROWN Act or no CROWN Act, you’re going to have to celebrate who you are.”

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