A Tempe law preventing race based hair discrimination could soon be national law after it passed in the U.S. House on Friday, March 18. Prior to Friday’s ruling, Tempe was among one of the few 33 cities and counties in the country that already had the Crown Act in place.
The Crown Act, which officially stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” prohibits raced based hair discrimination, specifically protecting hairstyles worn by black women, such as bantu knots, braids, cornrows and a pletheroa of other natural hairstyles.
This is the second time the bill has been proposed to the U.S. House, the first time being in February, but it was unsuccessful due to GOP opposition. This time, the passing of the bill came about by a Democrat majority vote of 235-189.
Before it reached the U.S. House on March 18, in November 2021, the unanimous passing of the act by Tempe’s African American Advisory Committee has since created more workplace protections for those who have natural hairstyles, and contributes to Tempe’s ongoing anti-discrimination initiatives.
“Tempe has always been progressive, but since having a black mayor and a black police chief, I think they’re really trying to embrace diversity, because we know when we as black people do better, everyone does better,” said Michelle Brooks-Totress, AAAC chairwoman.
The act was introduced after analyzing the findings in a 2019 study done by The Joy Collective, an award winning “black and woman-owned cultural insights, marketing and advertising
They found that 80% of black women agreed with the statement that they feel the need to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at work. It also found that black women are 3.4 times more likely to have their hairstyles be perceived as unprofessional, and they are 1.5 times more likely to get sent home from work because of their hair.
“I remember a time when I would not have dared considered wearing locs, I’m almost 50. Now, to be in a space where you’re recognized for the content of your character and you’re not so concerned about if I have locs, makes a big difference,” says Paula Johnson- Hutchinson, Tempe’s AAAC secretary and recently retired hairdresser of 30 years.
Hair discrimination directed towards black women dates back as far as the 1700s. Tignon laws first appeared in Louisiana in the mid 1700s, and stated by law that black women had to wrap their hair up in tignons, or headdresses, in public. This was due to the fact that European or Spanish travelers would arrive in Louisiana, and would be attracted to black women which upset the affluent white women. In response, tignon laws appeared in an effort to conceal natural hair and diminish that attraction.
While these laws dwindled in the 1800s, the long-term impact of them echoed throughout the South and most of the country for years to come and set a precedent for race based hair discrimination.
Hutchinson is from Louisiana, and witnessed first hand the long-lasting effects of the tignon laws. Her extensive experience as a hairdresser has allowed her to personally witness the type of struggles black women have gone through over the years to find a hairstyle that will cater to their workplace requirements.
Likewise, natural hair stylist and AAAC member Wiletta Mitchell, understands the importance of hair to black women.
“Hair is like our pride, our joy, like our babies. It’s like a necessity, like water is to our body. Passing this act is just an open door for black women to feel comfortable within themselves,” said Mitchell.