Birmingham joins the ranks of places eliminating natural hair discrimination—what this means

Darrius and Megan Peace of Hayah Beauty rocking their natural hair
Husband and wife duo Darrius and Meagan Peace of Hayah Beauty rocking their natural hair. Photo via Hayah Beauty’s Facebook page

On July 28, the Birmingham City Council unanimously passed a resolution to observe July 3 as National C.R.O.W.N. (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Day. Councilor Crystal Smitherman plans to work with state legislators to introduce the C.R.O.W.N Act to the Alabama state legislature in the next session. Keep reading to learn a bit more about the importance of this unique piece of legislation.

The status of the C.R.O.W.N. Act legislation in various states
States where the C.R.O.W.N. Act has been pre-filed, filed, passed or not passed. Graphic via The CROWN Act’s Facebook page

The C.R.O.W.N. Act has been adopted in seven states so far, “to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairsyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools.” At least twenty other states are considering hair discrimination legislation. 

CROWN Campaign community leader LaShawn Hill worked hard to mobilize community members and worked with Councilor Smitherman to pass the resolution. Learn more here.

woman with natural hair from Hayah Beauty
Beauty comes in so many forms. Photo via Hayah Beauty’s Facebook page

According to research done at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, “Black women with natural hairstyles including curly afros, twists or braids are less likely to get job interviews than White women or Black women with straightened hair.” Anecdotally, many men have experienced workplace discrimination because of their hair, and students have been sent home from school for hairstyles that teachers or administrators didn’t approve of. 

Stylists at Hayah Beauty which specializes in natural hair
Hayah Beauty helps people celebrate their natural hair. Photo via Hayah Beauty’s Facebook page

We reached out to Barbara Mason, of Career Pathways Consulting and Darrius Peace, owner of Hayah Beauty, a Birmingham salon that specializes in “natural hair that gets noticed” to find out more. Incidentally, Barbara Mason tagged me on a lively discussion on this very subject on LinkedIn.

From your position, what do you hear about people’s experience with natural hair (both positive and negative)?

women with a range of natural hair styles
So many possibilities … Photo via The CROWN Act’s Facebook page

Barbara Mason: In my past career [in corporate HR], I have not had any conversations come up about natural hair with members of other races in the interviewing process, but I have been a part of conversations about current employees that made a hair transition to wearing their natural hair while working there. 

Here is an example: An African American female leader came into the meeting and the senior executive in the room openly stared and said “What did you do to your hair? I didn’t know who you were.” She was extremely embarrassed but played it off with a smile and laugh. This was an inappropriate and immature level of leadership displayed by him.

Darrius Peace: Throughout my 20+ year career, I have encountered numerous women who have had wonderful work transitions into wearing their natural afro-textured hair. These women have always raved about the compliments that they would receive from work superiors while also climbing corporate ladders with polished showcases of afro-textured hair. 

On the other hand, there have been those few cases in which women have believed that wearing their natural coils to work would result in backlash and closed doors for opportunities. 

During the early 1990s, there was a lot of discrimination with women wearing braids and loc styles in the workplace. These styles became labeled as unprofessional, causing many to refrain from these options and choose damaging straight hairstyles. The aftermath included many cases of breakage, thinning, and stunted hair growth. 

Good hair has been referenced as loose and beautiful while bad hair has been recognized as tight and unruly. Fortunately, the natural hair movement has empowered many Blacks to accept, embrace and love their natural tresses.

Help end race-based hair discrimination with The CROWN Act
Ways to end race-based hair discrimination. Graphic via The CROWN Act

Are you familiar with this type of anti-hair discrimination legislation in other parts of the country?

Darrius Peace: I have worked closely with many of the leaders who have fought to have laws passed to prohibit the discrimination of afro hair in the workplace. The roots of this discrimination trail back to dated beauty school curricula. Black hair has never been a focus in beauty schools. 

This leaves many hair care professionals unable to treat and style these unique hair textures. When the pros can’t do afro hair, this leaves many to create styles on their own which can result in unrefined presentations.

The new laws have released many women from the bondage of hair-shaming in the workplace and in general society.

What advice do you give people about hair when they are preparing for interviews, etc?

man wearing a suit and locs
Men can rock natural hair, too, with or without a suit. Photo via Unsplash

Barbara Mason: As a career coach, the advice I would give about hair when preparing for interviews is to know the culture of the company you are interviewing for and be comfortable with how you present yourself authentically. 

If how you wear your hair is not a fit for the culture of the company you are interviewing for, accept it and know that you will probably not be happy there long -term. Do not go into the company thinking you will change the culture and make them accept you because cultures do not change on a dime and they are formed over many years.

Do you have any advice for companies on the subject of natural hair? 

girls with natural hair and signs saying we will not change our hair for your schools
Girls and boys want to experience hair freedom, too. Photo via The CROWN Act’s Facebook page

Barbara Mason: Companies should always be seeking to make all employees feel they can come to work authentically and not be discriminated against because of their hair styles and textures. This is just another evolution of equality and fairness for all companies to achieve.

Finally, the Oscar-winning short Hair Love explains it all without words

For many people of color and ethnic groups, the C.R.O.W.N. Act legislation seems overdue, but is an important step to take towards fairness in professional settings.

Now young girls and boys who rock their natural hair—as they should—can grow and enter a workplace knowing that something as simple as their hair will not hinder their ability to get a job. 

If you want to support this legislation, contact Crystal Smitherman or sign the petition.

Now tell us, Birmingham, what do you think about the C.R.O.W.N. Act? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know!

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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