Why I have mixed feelings about the CROWN Act
It’s old news now, but the CROWN Act was passed in the USA - finally! I should be feeling joy about that, right? And yet, I’m not - not totally. Let me explain.
I’m happy that, after a long battle, Black people in the US have some legislative protection against the deprofessionalisation of our hair. I’m happy they have that legal redress.
But that doesn’t mean they (we) won’t face microaggressions related to their hair. It doesn’t mean certain beautiful hairstyles won’t get side-eye from white colleagues. It sure won’t stop certain white people from making free with their glorious tresses. And it still may not stop Black kids getting hassled about their hair in schools, though it should. All it does is provide some legal protection. That’s important, because without it you get all kinds of nonsense happening.
But beyond this win - and it still IS a win, kinda - there’s the bigger question, the one that keeps me from feeling unalloyed joy, and it’s this: why the hell do we need to legislate for Black people to enjoy autonomy over our hair? And the answer, of course, is racism and white supremacy. Isn’t it always?
Disrespecting our hair is just one of the many ways white people have othered Black people in an effort to prove their superiority to themselves and everyone else. Comparing our hair to wool reinforced the idea that Black people were closer to animals and therefore could be treated as such - herded, brutalized, used, bred and discarded when no longer useful.
Ideas about the savagery and animality of Black people - ideas that still affect how we are treated today - were literally bound up with our hair. Ideas about what was considered beautiful and acceptable had a hair component. The overvaluing of European standards of beauty is why we have texturism. (Learn more about texturism and colorism in this Introvert Sisters podcast episode featuring Dr. Sarah L. Webb.)
The control of our hair (check out the Tignon laws, for example) was part of a larger attempt to control our bodies, our labor, our activities… our very being. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
This hair control doesn’t just happen in the US, of course. A recent survey in the UK showed that only 12% of teachers get training on hair as part of their diversity and equity training, even though the equality laws mean that they shouldn’t discriminate.
And in the Caribbean, you can still hear people talking about “good hair”, and there’s still an expectation that in certain jobs, you won’t have your hair natural or in locs. Texturism is real. That’s changing, of course, but entrenched attitudes take a while to shift. And, as far as I know, in the Caribbean there aren’t any laws stopping businesses and schools from perpetrating hair discrimination.
I know we need the laws - otherwise it leaves us unprotected. But forgive me if the need for those laws sticks in my craw, just a little bit. What do you think?
Thanks for reading
Image credit: Getty images: Erik Von Weber
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.