Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that makes California the first state to protect black people from hair discrimination.
The Democratic governor signed the CROWN Act ― which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair ― into law on Wednesday, after the state Assembly passed it June 27 and the state Senate passed it about two months before that.
“[This issue] is played out in workplaces, played out in schools,” Newsom said at the signing. “Every single day, all across America in ways subtle and in ways overt.”
The new law introduced by state Democrat Senator Holly Mitchell, a black woman, outlaws policies that punish black employees and K-12 students for wearing their hair in natural or protective styles. Workplaces and public schools will be banned from enforcing grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of colour, especially black people who wear braids, dreadlocks and Afros.
It is already illegal to discriminate in employment practices based on certain protected categories, such as race, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The CROWN Act mandates that the definition of race under the employment law also include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective styles.
“Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive in the media, in academic settings and in the workplace,” said Mitchell, according to the Los Angeles Times. “So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional.’”
The new law makes California the first state to ban natural hair discrimination. New York City passed similar legislation in February, saying hairstyles fall under the city’s anti-discrimination laws because attempting to control black hair is considered a form of racism.
Historically, black people have been punished in workplaces and classrooms across the country for wearing their natural hair. Mitchell introduced her bill after Chastity Jones, a black woman from Alabama, asked the US Supreme Court last year to hear her case about a company that withdrew her job offer because she would not cut her dreadlocks.
Newsom said he, “like millions and millions of Americans, was brought to a consciousness around this issue” last year. Wrestling referees told Andrew Johnson, a teenage black athlete, to either forfeit his match or cut off his dreadlocks. A video showing his dreadlocks being hacked off went viral at the time, sparking discussion about the trauma black people experience over the racist policing of natural hair.