California has become the first U.S. state to ban schools and employers from discriminating against people due to their natural hair.

The CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July 2019. Under the new statute, it is illegal to enforce policies against afros, braids, twists, and locs. 

It officially went into effect on January 1, 2020.

“This law protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Holly Mitchell said in a statement.

 “I am so excited to see the culture change that will ensue from the law.”

Mitchell — a Black woman who wears natural hairstyles — introduced the bill in 2019, saying the law is about “inclusion, pride, and choice.”

In a speech on the Senate floor she argued it is necessary and over-due.

“A Google image search for ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ yielded only pictures of black women with their natural hair or wearing natural braids or twists,” she said.

“Although disheartening, not very surprising.”

The tipping point

Hair-based discrimination has been an issue for decades, but it was thrust into the spotlight in December 2018 when a New Jersey school district ordered a Black high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a match.

“That’s played out in workplaces, it’s played out in schools — not just in athletic competitions and settings — every single day all across America in ways that are subtle, in ways overt,” Newsom said during the July bill-signing ceremony.

Now that it has passed, other states have followed suit.

Later in July, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill amending the state’s Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act to ban hair-based discrimination, effective immediately.

In October 2019, Cincinnati lawmakers announced plans to become the next city to ban discrimination against natural hair concerning housing opportunities, public accommodations, and employment.

“Discrimination against Black hair is discrimination against Black people,” New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said in a statement

“Implicit and explicit biases against natural hair are deeply ingrained in workplace norms and society at large. This is a violation of our civil rights, and it happens every day for black people across the country.”

Thumbnail image edited in Canva. Original image courtesy of Unsplash.