‘Crown Act’ would ban discrimination based on hairstyles

FAMU student Zaria Slaughter rocking her braided hairstyle. Photo courtesy: Slaughter

House Bill 51, originally known as House Bill 179, is again in front of the Florida Legislature after failing twice. The bill has been reintroduced as Florida’s “Crown Act,” prohibiting discrimination against hairstyles in the K-20 education system.

The bill is sponsored by Fentrice Driskell, Representative for District 67, and co-sponsored by Reps. Anna Eskamani of District 47 and Marie Woodson of the 101st District.

The C.R.O.W.N. Act was created in 2019 by Dove and the Crown Coalition. This bill, sponsored initially by former California State Senator Holly Mitchell, would introduce a new standard for protecting hair and hairstyles in public schools and the workplace. The fill encompasses race-protected hairstyles, hair textures and protective styles including, but not limited to, locs, braids and afros.

The Crown Coalition created the acronym C.R.O.W.N., meaning “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” to bring awareness to the realities of hair discrimination that many Black women and men endure.

Kamia Brown, the former 45th District representative, was the first to introduce the bill to the lower chamber. Brown said she was inspired to introduce the legislation after seeing how children were being treated in the education system, specifically, a kindergartner who was turned away from school on his first day because he had dreadlocks.

“As an African American, I feel the significance of hair is important because it tells our story,” Brown said. “It tells the story of our history with survival, and it symbolizes so much. Black hair has been a topic of conversation for centuries, dating back to slavery.”

The Perception Institute’s “Good Hair” research project found “that on average white women show explicit bias towards Black women’s natural hair, classifying it as less sexy, professional, and attractive than smoother hair.”

In 2019 the CROWN Research Study for Girls found “100% of Black elementary school girls in majority-white schools (who report experiencing hair discrimination) experienced discrimination by the age of 10.”

The bill’s text acknowledges the history of discrimination in the U.S. through laws and social constricts deeming “Blackness and its associated physical traits as inferior to European physical features.”

The bill, however, includes all protected hairstyles with race-related historical traits.

Brown hopes this legislation changes what is deemed professional.

“People have been denied jobs, denied housing, people have been distracted in their education,” Brown said. “It is important that we educate folks on the importance of this bill … and their preconceived notions and biases.”

In 2021, Florida A&M University student Zaria Slaughter was discriminated against at Panera Bread, where she had been employed for five months. Slaughter came into work her shift with the trendy feed in braid style and heart design and she was met with concern from her manager.

“Unfortunately, my manager explained that I couldn’t have my hair in braids due to the fact it gave a sense of unprofessionalism,” Slaughter said. “I struggled with anxiety and immediately thought I did something wrong, or I shouldn’t have shown up like this.”

Slaughter took this situation as her sign to resign, but not before explaining to the restaurant’s management team that unfair treatment of Black women due to protective styling was unacceptable, especially when it was not a threat to anyone.

If approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, House Bill 51 will go into effect July 1,  hoping to uplift the C.R.O.W.N. Act to create a respectful and open world for everyone’s natural hair.