Part VIII: Policy, You Nasty P
White culture and dominance is still prevalent in US society as well as elsewhere: and it is enforced by policy. But how, exactly, has hair entered into policy of the US? We touched on it earlier when talking about race based discrimination ending in the workforce. What the policy did not address was hair. As stated earlier: one can change their hair but not their skin. To make any excuse possible to still not hire Black people into their companies or enlist them in their schools, policy makers had to get devious. Playing on the stereotypes that Black people’s hair was unclean and unkempt, policies were put forward to make any and all excuses about not hiring/admitting someone because their hair did not fit workplace/school policy of ‘tidy’ or ‘acceptable’ hair. It was an effort to preserve white spaces. And it was legal to do so. It IS legal to do so in many states, still.
As of right now, there are 19 states in the US who have enacted a law ending hair based discrimination in the workplace and schools. Nationally, this movement is known as the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair). The CROWN Act has pushed for policy in all 50 states to end “race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.”39 There are 19 states that have enacted policy based on the CROWN Act. I am happy to say Washington state is among them.40 The only sad part is: this law has only been in effect since 2020. Yes, you read that correctly: 2020. About two years ago. The law ending race based discrimination was enacted in 1964: it has taken 56 years for this covert tactic to be ended, which is still not even a law in 31 states in the United States. Also, in 2022, they attempted for a second time to make this policy into a federal law and the Senate failed it for the second time.41 This means legislation is still up to individual states to tackle. And there is no such policy on the horizon for Canada. “While hair discrimination is common in Canada, Canadian law remains mostly silent on the matter. Currently, hair is not directly recognized as a protected ground and rather falls within the protected ground of race.”42
And how much of this extends to sport entities who create policy surrounding a sport? Unless a person with an African based hairstyle is a direct employee of that sport entity in a US state where the CROWN Act is law, an athlete competing may or may not be at the mercy of the controlling entity’s decisions regarding hair. An example of athletes being allowed to play with expressing Black hairstyles is Venus and Serena William’s iconic beaded and natural hairstyles while competing at tennis. For years they competed with the freedom to style their hair as they wished for competitions. However, there have also been other times athletes were forced to take the time to alter their hair to compete. An example of this would be Colin Kapernick’s story regarding his younger competing years (as shown in the Netflix documentary Colin in Black and White) and others43. In some cases, Black athletes have been forced to cut or alter their hair on the spot in order to continue competing. This is absurd: unless it poses a safety risk (aka hair so long someone may trip over it), why should it matter the manner of hairstyle or hair form of a player? The answer is in power: in preserving white power. By flexing this it is a scare tactic to remind Black folks to stay in line and remember the lie we have been told: that we are less naturally and through our choices.
Unfortunately these anti discrimination policies are heavily emphasized on employment. A lot of times school sport uniform policies are a reflection of the school’s own uniform policy, which may contain discriminatory policy. Even after these anti discrimination laws for hair pass, where it starts to get into a gray area are still sports. If a coach or an umpire tells an athlete that their hair is unacceptable, does the athlete have a case in court? I would say possibly, but it would be a hard fought battle considering it may be hard to prove discrimination per the law. Especially with the precedence set of what is acceptable hair in most societal spaces and the policies against that being so fresh. And in Canada they may not have a case at all.
All in all, it still leaves competitive sports and private schools in a very open place to be able to discriminate. The CROWN Act only covers “styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools”44 Yes: workplace and public schools only. Arguably a competitor is not an employee of a company; they are representing themselves. Private schools, where arguably some of the best education can be had, are still allowed to set their own policies as well. Wherever there are gray areas or areas that are privatized for money without government intervention, a lot of times this leaves Black people or people of color in general danger of discrimination due to age old attitudes backed by policy and precedence.
The way forward is policy, always policy. It is hard work to be anti anything and a lot of entities do not want to put in the work. Individuals who are not of Black descent who do wear African based hairstyles are not putting in the work to be anti racist: they are prancing around doing as they please not realizing the impact of their actions. Black people even today are being discriminated against due to our hair which means it’s too soon for white people to be carelessly displaying their power in such a way.
“We [as Black people] have just been raised to know that the value that is placed on your hair is also connected to the value that people hold for you. And that’s unfortunate…”45 Perception is still everything for Black people and people of color: it rules us in a way that white people are not subject to. Non Black people must choose their actions wisely and with intention. For those of us with textured Black hair, we still need to remember that we are beautiful and processes are in place to further affirm pieces of our identity in society.
“…there’s a resilience to our [Black] hair that is also indicative of our culture and our personalities and our history. And that is why I think it’s our crown, right? Crowns are very hard to break. Despite when they fall on the floor , they get passed around or empires may be toppled but the crown remains. When I think about hair, I think about that.”46
39. The CROWN Act. “About”https://www.thecrownact.com/about 26 Dec 2022
40. Washington State House Democrats. “Governor signs Morgan bill to prohibit hair discrimination” https://housedemocrats.wa.gov/morgan/2020/03/19/governor-signs-morgan-bill-to-prohibit-hair-discrimination/ 26 Dec 2022
41. behindthechair.com “The Crown Act Fails to Pass in The Senate” https://behindthechair.com/news/the-crown-act-fails-to-pass-in-the-senate/ 27 Dec 2022
42. Barreau, Annaëlle. “Afro-Hair and the Law: The State of American and Canadian Law on Race-Based Hair Discrimination” https://mjlh.mcgill.ca/2022/09/08/afro-hair-and-the-law-the-state-of-american-and-canadian-law-on-race-based-hair-discrimination/ 27 Dec 2022
43. Diaz, Johnny. “Black Student Athlete Was Forced to Remove Hair Beads During Game” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/us/north-carolina-high-school-hair-beads.html 26 Dec 2022
44. CROWN Act.”Home” https://www.thecrownact.com/ 26 Dec 2022
45. The Hair Tales. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14921616/ Tracee Ellis Ross, 2022
46. The Hair Tales. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14921616/ Tracee Ellis Ross, 2022