From Autumn Brown, Ph.D. candidate
The nation celebrated National CROWN day this past Saturday, July 3–a day of solidarity for the human rights of Black women, men, and children to wear their natural hair boldly, and proudly, without fear of being discriminated against in school or the workplace.
National CROWN day, also known as the “Black Hair Independence Day,” celebrates Afro-textured, curly, coily, kinky hair most often associated with Black and Indigenous people of color. The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a campaign to end hair discrimination in the workplace and at schools, which the Black community faces much too often when choosing to wear their natural hair.
States pass laws to undo hair discrimination
The law–passed in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, New Mexico, Delaware, and Nebraska–prohibits race-based hair discrimination, including the denial of employment and educational opportunities due to hair texture or protective styles like braids, locks, bantu knots, or twists.
While the CROWN Act may seem self-evident considering the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this policing of Black hair, specifically Black women’s hair, has been present for centuries.
But this isn’t the first time laws have been put into place because of our hair. For instance, in 1786 the tignon laws were passed by New Orleans Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro. The laws stipulated that Creole women and women of African descent must wear a tignon (a type of head covering) or a head scarf to cover up their hair.
America’s long history policing Black hair
Interestingly enough, these laws were aimed at stifling the enchanting and regal look of Black women as these free women explored their style, adorning their hair with feathers and jewels. Their style and hair were so striking, they exuded the image of wealth and class, leading to a significant rise in interracial relationships.
Seen as a threat to the social order in Louisiana, a threat to White women, the Governor hoped to control women “who had become too light skinned or who dressed too elegantly, or who competed too freely with White women for status and thus threatened the social order.”
Nevertheless, the Black community and communities of Color continued resisting such hampering legislation and dominant ideals of beauty. During the 1970s in the United States there was a movement among Black women and men to wear their hair in its natural state, celebrating every curl & kink. It was an expression of self-love as well as a rejection of the Eurocentric beauty standards that had policed Black hair, deeming it unattractive and unprofessional.
Teaching Black youth to be proud of their hair
In a forum on Black hair for the National Parents Union, father Johnnie Corina is adamant on teaching his daughters to take pride in their hair. This became necessary when his daughters, 12-year-old Ja-Kyra and 8-year-old Jaelynn, were made fun of for wearing an afro to school. “She understands the power of her hair,” Johnnie said, recognizing that Black hair is versatile and defies gravity. For his girls, he encourages them both to embrace the natural texture of their hair; thus, embracing their Blackness and rebuking dominant standards of beauty that only recognizes straight, “manageable” hair.
Additionally, Dr. Mechele Newell weighed in on her experiences with Black hair while serving in the United States Air Force. The military branch recently passed a new law that enables women to wear braids. Dr. Newell says that while AF136-2903, Air Force legislation, is a good start, there are still hindrances in the military that do not completely accept Black hair.
While AF136-2903 has been changed, updated, and modified within the last 2 years, there’s something to be said about Black women in the military having to suffer through hair issues while serving this country for years.
Oklahoma hasn’t passed the CROWN Act
For example, locks and twists were unacceptable. Further, due to a “bulk requirement” hair could not stick out more than three inches, though with this new piece of military legislation four inches is now acceptable. In addition, natural hairstyles were deemed as “fadish.”
Dr. Newell goes on to say, “I can honestly say that during my time in the Air Force, I really felt that no one took the time to really get to understand women of color and more specifically Black women and something that was very important to us, which is grooming our hair.”
Up until 2019, there was no legal ban on hair discrimination. In Oklahoma, the CROWN Act has been filed but not passed.
A related observance includes World Afro Day, a day where people are encouraged to celebrate kinky, coiled or curly afro textured hair, celebrated on September 15.