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Mitchell’s hair discrimination law signed by governor

LOS ANGELES — California became the first state in the nation to prohibit natural hair discrimination when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.

Senate Bill 188, or The CROWN Act, was proposed by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles 

Being a black woman with a natural hairstyle, she said, “any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a position, not because of my capabilities or experience but because of the way I choose to wear my hair, is long overdue for reform.”  

It was signed into law on July 3 and prohibits discrimination against hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists and locs in the workplace. It takes effect Jan. 1.

A spotlight was placed on the subject of natural hair discrimination last year when a high school student was forced to cut off his locs in the middle of a wrestling tournament. Andrew Johnson, a high school student in southern New Jersey, was told that he would not be permitted to participate in his wrestling match unless he cut his locs off last December. 

Johnson was told that he could either forfeit the match or get a quick haircut. There was a great amount of backlash against the official who issued the ultimatum.

Although anti-discrimination laws can protect an individual’s choice to wear an afro, courts have historically ruled that the laws do not protect those same individuals when they choose to braid, lock or twist their natural hair. 

The CROWN Act protects against discrimination based on traits historically associated with race such as hair texture and protective hairstyles. 

Mitchell’s bill was sponsored by organizations like Color of Change, and the Western Center on Law & Poverty. Now that it is law, it will ensure protection for black employees and students in workplaces and schools. The beauty care company Dove also supported the bill.

Under Mitchell’s law, employers and school administrators will no longer be able to enforce “race neutral” grooming policies that impact black people. Along with protecting black Californians from hair discrimination, the law also will protect their right to choose how they wear their hair. 

The CROWN Act was featured prominently at the 2019 Essence Festival in New Orleans last weekend. 

“The party with a purpose,” also known as the Essence Festival, is an annual event held to celebrate the anniversary of Essence, a magazine aimed at African-American women. 

Mitchell served as a speaker on several panels and presentations about the CROWN Act and its purpose. 

“And so, it brought me so much pride to stand with Governor Newsom as the fourth black woman to serve in the California State Senate as he signed the CROWN Act into law,” Mitchell said. 

At the festival, Mitchell spoke to women who shared their stories of discrimination in academic and employment settings because of their natural hairstyles. Mitchell shared the importance of knowing and engaging with local officials to share their stories. She reiterated the fact that she got elected and re-elected for her position as Senator for what was in her head, rather than her hairstyle. 

Dove, a member of the CROWN Coalition, hosted various events in celebration of the CROWN Act that weekend. Esi Eggleston Bracey, the chief operating officer of beauty and personal care at Unilever North America said, “Dove is so proud to stand by … Senator Holly J. Mitchell for this groundbreaking legislation that is a pivotal step in ending hair discrimination in the workplace and schools.” 

Dove also encouraged attendees to sign a petition that would allow the CROWN Act to be passed as a law around the nation. Already, more than 13,000 signatures have been collected on the petition. 

The CROWN Act is the first of its kind in the country to be signed into law. It has sparked attention all over the nation and other states have begun to make similar strides. 

Since its introduction, New York and New Jersey have introduced legislation similar to SB 188. Bracey believes that the CROWN Act will go a long way and is critical for the self-esteem, confidence and societal contributions of black people. 

By Sarah Jones-Smith

Conributing Writer