Maryland Banned Discrimination Against Natural Hair

Supermajority Education Fund

April 17, 2020

On March 16, Maryland became the latest state in the nation to prohibit schools and employers from discriminating against natural hairstyles like Afros, dreadlocks, and cornrows with the passage of the CROWN Act (an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”). Similar legislation has also passed in California, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and Virginia in recent years. 

In recent months, lawmakers across the country have been introducing versions of the bill on the city, state, and federal levels in response to several high profile incidents in which Black schoolchildren were suspended or otherwise punished because of their hair. The issue gained widespread attention in 2018 when a New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to either forfeit his match or cut off his dreadlocks to compete. That same year an 11-year-old Louisiana girl was asked to leave her class because her braided hair extensions violated school rules.

“Oftentimes when we talk about racial discrimination, the topic of hair discrimination isn’t included,” psychologist Afiya Mbilishaka told Supermajority News, adding that she often talks to clients who share stories about how they were passed over for career opportunities because of the way they wear their hair. “So [hair discrimination] is actually used to control people and their success outcomes.”

Advocates who support the bill say lobbying for the CROWN Act has often meant educating legislators and other policy officials about this connection between racism and permissible hairstyles. But while awareness of hair discrimination has increased, support for the CROWN Act on the legislative level varies greatly in states with smaller Black populations, Michele L. Watley, the founder of the advocacy organization Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, told Supermajority News. While a bill that would prohibit hair discrimination in Missouri schools passed unanimously in a House committee, it has yet to be put on the docket for a vote in the full chamber. Efforts to pass the bill in Kansas also remain stalled in committee. 

While Watley understands that lawmakers are currently concentrating on how to manage the coronavirus pandemic and the economic instability connected to it, she says that the connection between hair discrimination and the future of the economy should not be overlooked. This is particularly true because Black Americans are one of the populations most affected by both the impact of COVID-19 and the industries suffering the biggest layoffs. 

“When this is over, and they are trying to reenter the workforce, they then run into the possibility of not being able to get a new job because of their natural hair,” said Watley. “Then they won’t have any opportunity for recourse through the law, because that is not against the law in Kansas.”