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CROWN Act Would Protect Black Michiganders From Hair-Based Discrimination

State Rep. Sarah Anthony speaking at the Captiol
MI House Democrats
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Rep. Sarah Anthony first introduced the CROWN Act in 2019. She is now bringing the measure back in the 2021 legislative session.

Black women are nearly one and a half times more likely than white women to be sent home from their jobs because of their hair.

That’s according to a 2019 survey from personal care brand Dove.

The CROWN or “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair” Act is part of a national campaign to end hair-based discrimination.

Seven states have passed laws to protect against denial of employment or educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles like braids, locs and twists.

Now, State Representative Sarah Anthony is reintroducing the CROWN Act in Michigan, two years after she first put the measure forward in the state.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with the Lansing Democrat about the bill.

Interview Highlights

On What The CROWN Act Would Do

This bill explicitly will just state that hair is a trait that's historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective styles. And so, it would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include hair as one of those traits that folks can't discriminate based on again, all those other factors, right? [Like] sex and race and gender.

On Why She Got Involved In The National CROWN Act Campaign

As an African American woman, I can, you know, share so many stories from men and women who have been held back from promotions [and] from job opportunities, children who have been sent home from school because of the way their hair naturally grows out of their head or because of protective styles. And it really, truly is heartbreaking to hear these types of stories in our community.

On Why The Bill Has More Momentum This Year

2020 was really a year of reckoning for racial justice [and] social issues. And I think that individuals and organizations and companies are looking for ways to embed an equity lens in all that they're doing and making more inclusive environments. You know, I don't know, if a decade ago, we would see support from, you know, the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, right, and other businesses and organizations saying, "We want to stomp out this stuff." Right? And I'll also say, you know, COVID-19, right? You know, the pandemic has impacted women in ways that, you know, no one could have predicted, but we saw that the pandemic has put women out of work [and] has had these impacts.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

According to a 2019 survey from personal care brand Dove, Black women are nearly one and a half more likely than white women to be sent home from their jobs because of their hair.

The CROWN or “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair” Act is part of a national campaign to end hair-based discrimination.

Seven states have passed laws to protect against denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles like braids, locs and twists.

Now, State Representative Sarah Anthony is reintroducing the CROWN Act in Michigan. The Lansing Democrat joins me now to discuss the bill. Thank you for joining me.

Sarah Anthony: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: So, how would this measure help protect Black Michiganders who wear their hair naturally or in protective hairstyles?

Anthony: This bill explicitly will just state that hair is a trait that's historically associated with race, 

It would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include hair as one of those traits that folks can't discriminate based on again, all those other factors, right? [Like] sex and race and gender.

including hair texture and protective styles. And so, it would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include hair as one of those traits that folks can't discriminate based on again, all those other factors, right? [Like] sex and race and gender. And I think that it's important because that is our major civil rights statement. It's the thing that protects us in the workplace [and] in educational settings, etc.

Saliby: How did you get involved in this national effort?

Anthony: So, in 2019, I first introduced the Michigan CROWN Act. And you know, as an African American woman, I can, you know, share so many stories from men and women who have been held back from promotions [and] from job opportunities, children who have been sent home from school because of the way their hair naturally grows out of their head or because of protective styles. And it really, truly is heartbreaking to hear these types of stories in our community.

And so, when we saw that there was a national movement in place to address hair discrimination, you know, as a freshman lawmaker at the time, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to address this issue in Michigan.

Saliby: Do you see there being more momentum in getting this passed this year, as opposed to last year?

Anthony: I think that, you know, 2020 was really a year of reckoning for racial justice [and] social issues. And I think that individuals and organizations and companies are looking for ways to embed an equity lens in all that they're doing and making more inclusive environments.

You know, I don't know, if a decade ago, we would see support from, you know, the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, right, and other businesses and organizations saying, "We want to stomp out this stuff." Right?

For them to now be told that they have to, you know, chemically straighten their hair in order to reenter the workforce, I think is just inappropriate and really wrong.

And I'll also say, you know, COVID-19, right? You know, the pandemic has impacted women in ways that, you know, no one could have predicted, but we saw that the pandemic has put women out of work [and] has had these impacts. And I don't want women to be thinking to themselves, "Well, you know, I may not be able to enter the workforce or reenter the workforce because of my natural hair."

A lot of black women weren't able to get to the beauty shop, right? And they kind of started to embrace their natural curls and coils. And for them to now be told that they have to, you know, chemically straighten their hair in order to reenter the workforce, I think is just inappropriate and really wrong.

Saliby: You said that you spoke to many Black Michiganders about their stories with hair-based discrimination. Do you have any of those stories that you can share with us now?

Anthony: You know, actually a young woman, her name is Cameo King. She lifted up a story about being a young news reporter and was typically behind the scenes as a producer but wanted to take her shot at being in front of the camera. And she was explicitly told that she needed to do something with her natural curls [like] maybe get a wig or chemically straighten her hair. Now mind you, this is now an award-winning journalist that was told that she needed to alter who she was based on how her hair grew out of her head.

And you know that story was pretty heartbreaking for me, because it's not about how your hair is groomed. It really should be about how you show up in the world [and] what qualifies you for a position and this happened right here in mid-Michigan.

So, I do think these stories are important in order to shape the narrative and to educate individuals who may never have experienced hair discrimination but are learning about how this is having a real economic and psychological impact on men and women and children in our community.

Saliby: That was kind of my last question. I would imagine many of your colleagues in the state legislature have not faced or seen this discrimination based on their hair or how they wear their hair. How do you explain this problem to them to get them behind the act?

Anthony: You know, I think it's a matter of me taking the approach I take with every single piece of legislation, which is seeing things from a very human perspective, having one-on-one conversations and humanizing the issue.

Sharing the stories of, you know, children and men and women who have been overlooked and demoted and discriminated against, I think that's going to be the only way that we're able to change hearts and minds first.

You know, again, lots of folks have never experienced this type of discrimination. And so having those one-on-one conversations, sharing the stories of, you know, children and men and women who have been overlooked and demoted and discriminated against, I think that's going to be the only way that we're able to change hearts and minds first, and then ultimately change public policy.

Saliby: State Representative Sarah Anthony represents Lansing. She has introduced the CROWN Act into the state legislature. Thank you for joining me.

Anthony: Thank you for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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