House passes CROWN Act banning discrimination against Black hairstyles

Janelle Griffith
Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) speaking at a press conference, December 5, 2019.
Michael Brochstein | Sipa USA | via AP

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. It prohibits "discrimination based on an individual's texture or style of hair." The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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, 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 said in remarks on the House floor Friday morning. "And why are they denied these opportunities? Because there are folks in this society who get to make those decisions who think because you're 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.

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Without naming him, she referenced 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."

Before a vote was taken, a number of Black and African American legislators spoke of having been discriminated against because of their hair.

Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, 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, who said Friday that he wanted to focus on issues of importance to Americans, of avoiding a conversation about discrimination that disproportionately impacts Black people. Al Green, D-Texas, who is African American, invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in expressing his support for the CROWN Act.

In response to Jordan's remarks, Green 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."