The CROWN Act

In December 2019 Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe, making her the first Black woman to hold the honor since 2011 and the first Black Miss South Africa to win the Miss Universe title. With Tunzi’s victory came another momentous achievement: she was the first woman with natural afro-textured hair to win the crown. 

Hair, beauty trademark many disregard as trivial, but something Tunzi acknowledged was a pivotal part of her identity. 

“I've been with my natural hair for the past three years [and] I don't see why I should change it just because I'm stepping into another platform,” Tunzi said.

Now, one might ask why her hair was so important? 

Leading up to the contest, friends  told Tunzi she shouldn’t wear her hair natural. She was told, “Sis, we love you, but we're just saying, maybe you should put on a wig or buy a weave.” She was encouraged to change herself and how she looked to meet the societal beauty standards set by her predecessors, ones that often emphasized Euro-centric ideas of beauty.

However, styles have evolved and she has since been praised for her natural look and for advocating for natural beauty. During the competition Tunzi maintained her central message that beauty isn’t one thing, it is whatever we want it to be. 

“Before cutting my hair, I did have to think about it. I was so scared of not looking beautiful when I see myself in the mirror, of people not considering me attractive anymore. And that's when I realized that we are so scared of people's opinions, and that needs to stop,” Tunzi said in an interview with Insider

Tunzi’s win and advocacy, while not limited to hair, is proving groundbreaking for a trait that is rooted in culture and tradition. For decades women have been told that in order to look presentable, beautiful or professional their hair must be “done.” It needs to have some form of heat applied to it to have straight or perfectly curled locks to be accepted by society. 

However, steps around the world are being taken to change this notion. For example, Dove, launched the CROWN Act. CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair, and it  works to “ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes” according  to their website.

This act was inspired after the CROWN study Dove conducted in 2019. The company surveyed 2000 women (1000 black and 1000 white) to see if there was workplace bias based on their hair. They study found that there was. 

According to Dove’s website “Black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy….and [their hair] is 3.4 [times] more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.”  

California was the first state to sign the act and it went into effect Jan. 1, 2020. New York, and New Jersey followed suit and twenty additional states are filing their own anti-hair discrimination bills. 

Racial prejudice isn’t a  ground-breaking revelation, it has been happening for decades . However, the topic of hair is a long over-due discussion that works as an extension of racial  discrimination

 

Recent Events in Advocating for Natural Hair

The Oscars were held a few weeks ago, and are notorious for their lack of diversity. For the most part, they lived up to their expectations yet again, however not in the best animated short category, where the film Hair Love took home the prize. The short is about an African-American father learning how to style his young daughter's hair, with the central message being embracing and loving your natural locks. 

When accepting his speech, writer Matthew A. Cherry noted that the film was created to normalize black hair and he specifically mentioned the CROWN Act, encouraging for it to be passed in all 50 states.

In a New York Times' piece, in was highlighted that during her speech, the other creator of the film, Karen Rupert Toliver, "described the film as a labor of love that stemmed from 'a firm belief that representation matters deeply,' especially in cartoons 'because that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.'"

Combating the negative associations surrounding natural hair at a young age has been happening for some time now. 

In 2009, comedian Chris Rock came out with the documentary Good Hair which focused on African American women, their hair and how they have been told growing up that their hair should be styled in a certain way to be desirable in mainstream American culture. He released the movie after his daughter came to him upset that she didn't have "good hair."

The film explores the drastic lengths African American women go to in order to feel like they have “good hair” — aka not curly… or wiry… or kinky. From a young age, Black women are taught that the natural hair they are born with isn’t acceptable and they should spend hours in the salon receiving chemical straightening treatments that “relax” their hair. Not only is this damaging to the hair, but it damages the person too.

The topic of “good hair” was addressed in the media again in a recent episode of the sitcom Mixed-ish, a spin-off of the show Black-ish. In the show, which follows a mixed race family in the 80s, the main character Bo was told she needed to have “neat” hair for her school picture day. This comment was a microaggression against Bo that instilled an insecurity in the character throughout the remainder of the episode. People are often unaware how such a small comment can leave such a lasting impact on an individual, especially a developing young woman.

Tracee Ellis Ross, who narrates the series, has said that “This is the 80s. This is a long time ago and we are still, in 2019, walking our way through a lot of this … and I think that’s what we really wanted to show. We were not yet at the place — at a natural [hair] revolution and black girl magic and seeing images of mixed women and black women wearing their hair in its gravity-defying, natural glory.”

Ross is also a strong advocate for the CROWN Act and the influence of culture within public policy. 

“We are many different kinds of people in this culture of natural hair and curly hair and mixed girls and black girls and men across the board. But we [must] continue to speak up in this way, from our point of view, to change the understanding that influences policy [like the CROWN Act],” Ross said to Entertainment Weekly. 

In her advocacy efforts, Ross has started a new hair care line Pattern Beauty, which specializes in offering beauty products to women of color that mainstream brands often ignore. She is hoping that her hair brand will help eliminate the stigma society has created around natural African American hair. 

The discrimination against hair that the CROWN Act is working to protect extends further than woman too. In 2018, high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was forced by a white referee to shave his dreadlocks for his match. By being forced to shave his dreadlocks, it continued the precedent of natural hair discrimination and the referee’s demand demonstrates a level of ignorance that Black Americans should not have to face in the 21st century. Acts like these are more about the race and culture the hair pertains to.  

The CROWN act is  working to counter  negative societal expectations projected on  children at a young age and continue to work towards equal opportunities for all.