The Crown Act & How You Should Act
When you’ve had to get ready for a job interview, how many times have you gone to the hair salon the day before for a quick blow out or spent all night trying to flat iron it so you can look as “professional” as possible? No need to be ashamed I’m sure we’ve all done it at some point. As much as the natural hair community has grown, one space that the acceptance of natural hair is still lacking is the workplace. Black women’s natural hair is still looked at as unkempt and unprofessional and it’s not uncommon for a Black folk with locs or kinky twists to be told they need to choose a new style, because it “doesn’t represent the company.” Hell, if you google “unprofessional hairstyles” nothing but pictures of Black women appear in the results. So, I was definitely pleased when the CROWN Act was passed.
A Little Background
For those of you who don't know the CROWN Act is also known as Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act. What I love about this act is that local government is actually taking steps to make sure there is inclusion, pride, and choice in the workplace. They’re making sure (well, trying) Black folk can remain Black folk even in places of business. With the help of the CROWN Act my hope is that we can change the rhetoric that Black hair is not professional.
California signed it first with Senator Holly Mitchell and then it went on over to New York, where they signed their own version into law. I’ve heard New Jersey may be next, but I'm just waiting for the DMV, specifically Maryland since that’s where I live. But, the District as well as Virginia need to adopt this law asap because some of the businesses and schools in the area seem to have a problem even though they don’t want to admit it.
Regardless of who signs it next, what I like about the Crown Act is that we're putting a ban on natural hair discrimination which means that businesses and schools are going to be required to take a second look at their policies to make sure they are being a bit more inclusive and less overtly racist. Because we all know usually when someone says you don't look professional, what they really mean to say is that you don't look white enough and it makes me uncomfortable.
The True Beneficiaries
While everyone with a some melanin in them should be just as happy as I am, this type of law is really going to impact the darkest and kinkiest hair of us. We’re the ones that will truly benefit the most. Now I know some of y’all like “why she even bringing skin tone up, the CROWN Act is really about the crown, your hair.” However, one thing I know for sure as someone who has studied and done the research around colorism and texturism is that they are very inextricably linked in white supremacist beauty. When a woman is dark skinned with “good hair” she gets treated better than somebody with the same dark skin but a kinkier texture. Then there's light skin women with kinkier textures who gets treated better than I, and women who look like me, would ever get treated because her skin tone “saves” her from the undesirable hair texture. It’s as if 4c hair texture somehow looks better on her simply because she’s lighter - and I’m not for that.
While some of us will reap the rewards more than others, what I don't want is for any of us to get complacent just because this law may be making its way around the country. I feel like I can see it now, somebody, somewhere is going to talk about how we're in a “post colorism, post texturism” world. The same way some of these fools were talking that nonsense about the country being post racial, and I’m going to need ya’ll to get it together because we are not. As long as racism remains, so too will colorism and texturism.
We Still Have Work to Do
No law is going to take away the experiences many Black girls, Black women, Black mothers, and Black children have already lived walking around with their hair texture and skin tone. While the CROWN Act makes it law we need other things in place that will make it practice. This need for PRACTICE, is why I do the work that I do.
I’ll be doing a training at the Diversity In Parenting Conference on Friday, September 13th that addresses how parents talk about hair texture with their kids now, and how they can be more intentional in this work. While many of you may feel like this isn't an important conversation, it really is. Think about all the things that get passed down from one generation to the next, things that our children are presently learning and taking in. Think about it, great grandma was told she was nappy, unkempt and she can't go out the house like that and she told her daughter that. She told her daughter that she gotta fry, dye, lay her hair to the side to make sure she can walk out the house and be considered acceptable, never beautiful. And mom, while she’s trying to break that curse and not pass it on to her child, she hasn't worked out her own problems or addressed her own narratives. Often times we think these comments don’t really matter so we think we've let them go, forgetting how much these things hurt us. In reality, we live our hurts, and hurt others based on what has gone unnamed and thus unresolved. We forget that how we value others, their hair texture, skin tone, and how it presents in public and if they are acceptable, is based in the same white supremacist rhetoric we received when we were young.
Do you remember Easter Service as a child, and the night before when your mama or auntie blew out your hair or permed it and put into a cute little style that was acceptable for church? What about when picture day came around they broke out that same hot comb and flat iron and told you to sit down after so you don't mess up your hair that they spent all afternoon doing? What about constantly being told how tough and thick your hair is, and how hard and difficult it is to manage. This is rhetoric that gets ingrained in us, this is rhetoric that hurts us, and these are the thoughts that we hear when we think about our own hair as grown adults. Without hesitation we repeat this same narrative to ourselves and others about how our hair texture isn’t manageable and how it’s hard to maintain. After two hours in and only half a head done, we have these fantasies about going back to the creamy crack because we know how to deal with straight hair - but baby girl that's only because that’s what you were taught. You weren't taught from a young age what kinky hair is, you weren't taught how to manage it, and you damn sure weren't taught that you should be proud of it! So instead of positive thoughts about our hair, we continue with this tired ass rhetoric of our hair not being “good” hair and wonder how our six-year-old babies pick it up. When the truth is, we gave it to them. We gave them what grandma gave us or somebody gave grandma. And so forth and so on.
Now does us having work to do mean white folk and some of their prejudice butts, especially in this Trump Nazi era are absolved? NO, they are not absolved. The work they have to do is incontrovertible (Happy Potter Vocab!) They are first in line to combating racist rhetoric which also helps push back against colorism and texturism based rhetoric. But I'm not talking to them, I'm talking to us. They may have built the house of white supremacy, but we have been helping to maintain it. The CROWN ACT is one step, it gives a voice. Our work, the work we have to do on ourselves, will help to give it teeth. Because as long as Black folk continue to recognize the microaggressions that others are receiving around their hair, but do nothing about it, or worse give that “advice” about changing up to make white others comfortable and see you as a professional, the CROWN Act won’t have any impact. We cannot continue to say that Black women’s natural hair is unkempt and a hot mess, and pushing our own internalized white supremacist’s beauty standards on our sisters because of our lack of comfort. And because we have yet to address our own narratives and do our own work.
Don’t let the Crown Act make your ass complacent, make sure that you continue to do the work. The CROWN act makes hair inclusivity law, but resources like Cocoa Butter and Hair Grease makes it practice.