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Minnesota legislators want to outlaw discrimination based on hair

Research shows black women are far more likely to get sent home from work because of their hairstyles.

Research shows black women are far more likely to get sent home from work because of their hairstyles. Oscar Obians, Unsplash.com

Last month, DeAndre Arnold, a high school senior living in Texas, was told he couldn’t walk at his graduation ceremony unless he got rid of his long dreadlocks.

The look supposedly violated the Barbers Hill Independent School District dress code.

Last year, in New Jersey, high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was forced to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match. He chose to compete. Video of the wrestler standing still while someone took a pair of scissors to his hair went viral and sparked a civil rights investigation.

These are examples Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) cites when she talks about why she and colleagues are introducing the CROWN Act at this coming legislative session. CROWN stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The prospective law would prohibit discriminating against someone based on the way their hair looks or feels.

The CROWN Act already has traction nationwide, passing in California, New York, and New Jersey, the state where Johnson’s locs were shorn. It’s also been passed in a number of cities, as well as introduced in some 20 or so other states, and in Congress. It’s about time, Moran says, we got on it in Minnesota.

Not every instance of hair policing ends in a viral video. Women of color—particularly black women—face this all the time, Moran says. Research by Dove, which co-founded the Crown Coalition to push for this kind of legislation, finds that black women are 30 percent more likely to be informed of a “formal grooming policy” in the workplace. They were also one and a half times more likely to be sent home or know someone who had been sent home because of her hairstyle.

Women of color were also 80 percent more likely to change their natural hair to meet societal, Euro-centric norms, or workplace expectations.

“As an African American person myself, I know and my children know that the texture of our hair makes people uncomfortable,” Moran says. She keeps her own hair pressed for exactly that reason.

Each state has taken a slightly different approach. In Minnesota, Moran and her colleagues want to tack the CROWN Act onto our existing Human Rights Act—expanding the definition of “race” to include “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

Moran's bill attracted a number of co-authors, including Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights)  and Hodan Hassan (DFL-Minneapolis), who join Moran as the only other black women in the 134-member House.

It’ll be a few weeks before Moran's bill gets a first committee hearing. (The 2020 session convenes February 11.) She’s hopeful colleagues in the Legislature will be receptive, but in her time at the Capitol she’s learned that things are “never” that easy or simple.

“Unfortunately, we have not reached that type of inclusiveness altogether,” she says.