National CROWN Day: How Banning Hair Discrimination Uplifts Black Women in the Labor Force

| Jun 29, 2023

The day before the Fourth of July, Black Americans are commemorating a different kind of freedom. July 3rd is National CROWN Day, or “Black Hair Independence Day,” and we’re standing in solidarity with Black women in their fight to wear their natural hair proudly, without fear of discrimination, in workplaces and schools.

Across the United States, many employers have adopted employee grooming policies rooted in Eurocentric standards of professionalism. Oftentimes, these guidelines prohibit workers from wearing locs, braids, afros, twists and other natural hairstyles that have been viewed by employers as “unprofessional, unkempt and messy,” in line with longstanding sexist and white supremacist stereotypes. Due to these formal policies, along with the unconscious biases that underlie them, many Black women feel pressured to change their hair texture during the hiring stage. In fact, 54 percent of Black women believe that it is necessary to straighten their hair for a job interview to be successful. And while there’s nothing wrong with Black women straightening their hair out of their own desire to do so, some straightening processes can damage their hair, or worse. Relaxers are associated with long-term health consequences, like uterine cancer, breast cancer and asthma.

By contrast, qualified Black individuals choosing to wear their hair naturally – thereby defying formal and informal grooming standards – can have their chances of being hired for a job thwarted by discrimination. A quarter of Black women believe they have been denied a job interview because of their hair. Meanwhile, those who are already employed risk being fired, demoted, denied a promotion, subjected to microaggressions or put through other experiences that may increase their chances of quitting. Missed job and advancement opportunities are especially detrimental for Black women, who face unique economic challenges driven by a combination of anti-Black racism and misogyny. Although nearly 80 percent of Black mothers serve as the key breadwinners for their families, Black women are occupationally segregated into low-wage work and are paid only 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. With nearly 1.2 million Black women-headed households living in poverty, an absence of legal protections against hair discrimination exacerbates Black women’s already precarious economic conditions.

Fortunately, policies are changing every day, led by the efforts of Black women.

July 3rd marks the fourth anniversary of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act’s inaugural signing in California. Introduced by then-State Senator Holly J. Mitchell, the CROWN Act prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities due to hair texture or protective hairstyles. Since 2019, 22 states and over 40 localities have signed the CROWN Act or legislation inspired by the CROWN Act into law.

Most recently, Lexington became the fourth city in Kentucky to pass their own CROWN Act legislation. Ordinance No. 49-2023 protects Lexington residents from hair discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing by expanding the definition of race, religion and national origin discrimination to include natural hairstyles and texture. The National Partnership for Women & Families is proud to have supported Lexington City Council members, local organizations and young advocates (like the Real Young Prodigies) in their efforts to secure this ordinance’s passage. The National Partnership partnered with LexArts to fund a mural, unveiled in February by leaders and advocates in Lexington’s Julietta Market, to both promote the CROWN Act and celebrate natural hair.

By passing the CROWN Act, Lexington removed one of the many barriers Black women face to economic opportunity and mobility. Many jurisdictions are attempting to follow suit. In 2023, at least nine states, including North Carolina and Kentucky, have considered CROWN Act legislation, and momentum is continuously growing.

Although significant progress has been made within the past four years, there is still more work to be done. Last year, the CROWN Act (H.R.2116) passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but was subsequently blocked by Senate Republicans. The absence of federal CROWN Act legislation leaves Black women in 28 states still vulnerable to discrimination based on hair style and texture. As we spend National CROWN Day celebrating the beauty, uniqueness and cultural significance of natural hair, we must remain unrelenting in our fervent campaign for nationwide legal protections against hair discrimination.