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CROWN Act Introduced to Colorado Legislature

Illustration: Taylor “Kat” Goodman · The Sentry
HB20-1048 advocates for social justice.

Aims to eliminate discrimination based on hair 

In the transition from education to the workforce, most people begin to worry about looking “professional.” While for some that may just mean wearing a suit, others must worry about their most natural characteristics, such as hair. Up until now, discrimination based on hairstyle has been prevalent in both education and employment. But lawmakers in Colorado are trying to change that. 

HB20-1048 extends existing anti-discrimination policies to include specifically hairstyles. The bill particularly impacts natural hairstyles typically worn by people of color (or, as the bill states, “hairstyle(s) commonly associated with race”), including locks, afros, and grown-out facial hair. Dubbed the CROWN Act, an acronym for Create a Respectful Workplace for Natural Hair, HB20-1048 applies to all schools and jobs. As an extension of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the CROWN Act has already been passed in California, New York, New Jersey, and several individual counties throughout the US. 

The CROWN Act specifically applies to public education, offices of employment, and housing opportunities. According to the legislation, “A clear and comprehensive law should address the systematic deprivation of educational, employment, and other opportunities on the basis of hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles that are commonly associated with race.” 

Dove, a personal care brand, partnered with the National UrbanLeague to co-fund The CROWN Coalition, part of the movement introducing CROWN legislation to the US. In 2019, Dove conducted a study on the perceptions of traditionally black hairstyles in the workplace. According to the study, black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home for their hairstyles and are 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” based on their hairstyles. In their publication of the study, Dove states, “Hair discrimination has real, measurable social and economic impact on Black women.” 

In recent years, several incidents of discrimination and even violence based upon hairstyles have rocked education institutions across the country. Earlier this year, a high school senior in Texas was told he may face in-school suspension and may not even be able to walk at graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks. In 2018, a high school wrestler in New Jersey had his dreadlocks forcibly cut off by a white referee during a wrestling match. 

“People lost promotions or didn’t gain promotions because of hair, or weren’t getting certain assignments because of hair, and you wonder how many in the private sector, how many careers, were impacted because of a person’s hair,” said Omar Montgomery, director of Black Student Services at CU Denver. 

The CROWN Act was introduced in early 2020 by House Representatives Leslie Herod and Janet Buckner, both black women who have consistently advocated for social justice since their elections in 2016. Montgomery believes Colorado’s rising diversity in elected officials has helped in the introduction of policies like the CROWN Act. “If these people weren’t elected into office, would we be having this conversation? And that’s why it’s important that we have these diverse voices at the table, so that we can have a greater understanding of where are the areas where people are being disenfranchised, and where can we correct it,” said Montgomery. 

The CROWN Act passed in the Colorado House on February 12. Thus far, the CROWN Act does not face extensive opposition. 

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