A bill aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of hair has passed out of a Louisiana House committee today.
The bill, which mirrors many making their way through legislatures across the country, is known as the Crown Act. In general, it is aimed at preventing discrimination against people based on what their hair looks like naturally or what kind of hairstyle they choose to wear. In particular, the law forbids discrimination in public schools against children who wear "natural, protective and cultural" hairstyles, including afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls and "hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance." It also forbids discrimination in hiring or employment based on these criteria.
HB 41, authored by state Rep. Candace N. Newell, D-New Orleans, was passed 8-2 by the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure this morning. It now heads to the full House.
"The intent of this bill is to protect all people who have textured, natural hair," Newell testified Monday. "The way their hair grows out of their scalp and the protective ways they chose to style their hair in. It's not about race, it's not about gender, it's about all people being able to wear their hair in its natural state and to wear their hair in protective styles that will protect their hair."
Newell said she wants Louisiana to have clarity in the law to clear up any confusion for the courts, and to ensure that "all of our citizens can be treated fairly and equally, no matter how their hair grows naturally out of their scalp, or how they decide to style that hair as it grows out of their scalp - or the way it doesn't grow out of their scalp."
More than two dozen people filled out comment cards in support of the measure, and a stack of letters of support were submitted to the committee before the vote. There were two cards filled out in opposition to the bill.
Among the supporters are the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom; that group also has spearheaded a coalition of more than 20 organizations that have signed on in support of the law.
The LCRF said the coaltion brings "together white-led and ally organizations to join Black and women of color led organizations in pushing for the passage of legislation to prohibit employment discrimination based on natural hairstyles."
The original group of Black and women of color-led organizations was put together by Citizen SHE United, a New Orleans-based group aimed at "reorganizing Louisiana's power structure to recognize Black women as voters, activists, leaders, and elected officials." That group has had more than 150 sign-ons; you can read more about that here.
Nia Weeks of Citizen SHE also testified Monday. If you want to watch the testimony, click here. It begins at about 1:15 in.
Women across this state, we all have a hair story. We all worry about our hair. But there's a unique space for black girls and black women when we consider our hair, because our consideration is not just tied to beauty. It's tied to whether or not we're going to be sent home from work, or sent home from school or be allowed to graduate," Weeks testified. "And this state needs all of us to be successful, and for this state to survive. We want to participate in this state. We want to participate in this country, fully. And it's silly that we have to consider our hair in order to fully participate in this country and this state."
The coalition organized by LCRF acknowledges that Black-led groups and women of color-led groups have to do all the heavy lifting.
“It is often said that together we are strong, but too often that has meant Black women and advocates pushing for what they need to be healthy and succeed while organizations led by white people stood back and expressed support quietly with little action or effort. Silence is complicity with the very real discrimination that Black, Indigenous and other people of color face every day in every sector across our state and our country. We must act," a letter signed by coalition members states.
The bill is about more than hair. The coalition states that it is about "the long-term work to push for policy and culture change to dismantle white supremacy."
The coalition letter also states that bringing white-led groups into the discussion.
"We believe that it is critical for white allies to be explicit about race and to make active, ongoing and intentional commitments to dismantling white supremacy and to take concrete action to advance racial justice and equity," the letter states. "We are so proud to speak out with Citizen SHE United and other Black led organizations to secure passage of this important bill."
It may seem like a non-issue to people it does not affect, committee testimony indicated. One person testified that, as a white woman, she had never even thought about the issue of hair and hair styles in terms of school or work.
"The impact of hair discrimination cannot be overstated," the coaltion letter states. "Policies that criminalize natural hair have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and adults from their employment. The way a person wears their hair is about self-expression and for many may be woven into their identity and a celebration of their heritage. Black hair has been unjustly policed everywhere, from offices to classrooms, for decades. We are speaking out together to urge lawmakers to pass this bill as a first step to begin to address the rampant and long-standing inequities in our systems that serve to harm and deny equal opportunity to Black Louisianans.”
Here's a list of groups that have joined the coalition:
- The Amandla Group
- Basic Necessities Diaper Bank
- Catholics for Choice
- Center for Reproductive Rights
- If/When/How: Lawyering For Reproductive Justice - Tulane Chapter
- Independent Women's Organization of Greater New Orleans (IWO)
- League of Women Voters
- Legislative Agenda for Women (LAW) Coalition
- Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom
- Lift Louisiana
- Louisiana NOW
- Louisiana Progress
- Louisiana Trans Advocates
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Greater New Orleans Chapter, Inc.
- National Council of Jewish Women - Greater New Orleans Section
- New Orleans Maternal and Child Health Coalition
- Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast
- Real Name Campaign NOLA
- Reproductive Justice Action Collective (reJAC)
- Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR)
- Students Advocating for Equity in Medicine
- Women With a Vision (WWAV)
If you'd like to read the text of the bill and keep up with its journey through the legislature, visit the bill's page here.