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The Crown Act may offer protection for natural hair

On Behalf of | May 23, 2019 | Firm News |

While offering a bill on California’s Senate floor, the bill’s sponsor described “a defining and paradoxical struggle” in the work experiences of many Americans.

The struggle is “to maintain what society has deemed a ‘professional image’ while protecting the health and integrity of their hair.”

She told her Senate colleagues that their own staff members might struggle in precisely this way.

Staff would tell the Senators all about it “if given the chance.”

Barriers hide in the so-called professional look

The bill working its way through the California legislature is often called the CROWN act after the acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair.”

The text of SB 188 would strengthen California’s ability to prohibit and redress racial discrimination in workplaces, education and housing.

Section 1 may make for an interesting read.

For example, it recognizes that “continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming” tends to exclude African Americans from some workplaces, contradicting the values of the state of California.

It acknowledges “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

Protective styles are those such as Afros, twists, Bantu knots, updos, and locks which minimize damage to natural hair.

When youre told to just be careful

Bay area Fox affiliate KCTU interviewed a Clayton, California, woman who has worked at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco as well as hospitals in Santa Cruz, UCSF and Florida.

After landing jobs, Mary Beth Haile Hofstein says she would transition to less damaging hairstyles.

“They’d start to treat me a little differently. It’s hard to quantify. I’d just get comments like, ‘Just be careful, make sure you stay within code.’”

Some, perhaps less familiar with these experiences, have expressed doubt the law is about much more than fads and fashion.

But Hofstein tells KCTU, “This is serious. It’s about getting hired. If you don’t have a job, you can’t feed your family.”

The CROWN act passed in the Senate by a vote of 37-0. It now moved on to the other house of the legislature, beginning with the Assembly’s Committee on Judiciary.