Bill protecting Black women’s natural hairstyles continues through legislature

CROWN Act nears final stretch in Louisiana House

By: - May 7, 2021 5:28 pm
Bill protecting Black hairstyles continues through legislature

Louisiana State Sen. Troy Carter introduced a bill that would prohibit “race discrimination based on natural hairstyles.” The bill would protect Black women who don’t want to use chemicals or heat to straighten their hair in order to get or keep employment. Carter’s bill has been approved by the Louisiana Senate and was approved Thursday by the Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. (Stock photo by Shutterstock)

A bill that would prohibit race-based discrimination of natural hairstyles inched a step closer to full legislative approval Thursday after clearing the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. It next heads to the House floor for consideration.

Senate Bill 61 would make it unlawful for employers to deny employment or make restrictions based on hairstyles that are natural for one’s particular race. This would include traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and “protective hairstyles” such as braids, locs and twists, among others.   

The bill is the last piece of state legislation introduced by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, who served his last day in the Louisiana Legislature on Thursday. Last month Carter was elected as U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. 

Referred to as the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), the language in Carter’s bill is nearly identical to measures enacted or introduced by lawmakers from other states. The campaign began in 2019 as a collaboration between the soap manufacturer Dove and three nonprofits: the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. The campaign is based on the argument that people ought to be allowed to keep their hair the same texture it naturally grows out of their heads. More specifically, the campaign argues that Black women should not be forced by their employers to use chemicals to straighten their hair. 

California passed the first CROWN Act in 2019, and nine other states have followed. The campaign started the year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a Black woman’s complaint that she had been racially discriminated against by a company that cited her short dreadlocks as a reason not to hire her.

Carter testified Thursday that he thought his last bill as a state senator was going to be “an easy one.” And it had breezed through the Senate Labor Committee and the full Senate with unanimous support. It also garnered no opposition from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. 

“You’ll note that we have all green cards — not a single red card,” Carter said, referring to the colors that indicate support or opposition to a bill. “LABI is in the audience. LABI has not put in a red card in opposition to this.”

But Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, and Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Bossier, two White women, asked that the bill be amended to carve out an exemption for businesses that have grooming rules.

“I just don’t want to take a business’s ability away to create their own standards no matter who it is,” Horton said.

Carter, who’s Black, said, “I don’t think you’d like it if you walked into the capitol tomorrow and Speaker (Clay) Schexnayder said, ‘Straight hair is no longer allowed here.’ You would have a bill to say, ‘Wait a minute.’”

“I don’t live in a world and wasn’t raised in one that was prejudiced against someone,” Horton added.

The committee voted 7-4 to advance the bill with Horton as one of the three Republicans who voted yes. Rep. Michael Echols and Rep. Bob Owen were the other two Republicans who approved the bill along with Democrats Ed Larvadain, Barbara Carpenter, Kenny Cox and Tammy Phelps.

Republicans Beryl Amedée, Raymond Crews, Larry Frieman and Valarie Hodges opposed the measure.

Frieman said he felt the bill was unnecessary: “We’re creating yet another class or another protected class of people, but that people, as you said, African American people are already protected as a protected class under race discrimination hiring practices.”

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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