On Aug. 14, 2019, Sony Pictures Animation released the short film “Hair Love,” which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film (animated).
When I first saw the film, I couldn’t help but cry.
Watching the story of a Black father learning to style his daughter’s thick, naturally-curly hair filled me with so much love. This important representation of the Black experience is an image the Black community needs to see in media.
Yet, while the natural hair movement has been going strong for years, and “Hair Love” is an example of that promotion of self-acceptance, society has yet to fully accept the natural hair of Black men and women.
This has led to various instances of natural hair discrimination, demonstrating the need to pass the “Create A Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, Act in Pennsylvania.
The CROWN Act prohibits “discrimination on hair style and hair texture,” according to the bill’s website. This act ensures protection in workplaces and K-12 schools by expanding the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Education Code.
On Dec. 5, 2019, Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), who represents the third district of Pennsylvania, encompassing part of Temple University’s Main Campus, introduced the federal version of the CROWN Act to the House of Representatives. Currently, the CROWN Act was passed in three states, and introduced in 20 more, including Pennsylvania.
“I think it is a step in the right direction,” said Lori Tharps, an associate professor of journalism who has researched the natural hair movement. “But making something illegal, in this case, discrimination against Black hairstyles, does not eradicate the problem.”
Last month, a Black student in Pittsburgh was told that if he did not cut his dreadlocks, he would be suspended from school or even kept from graduating, WXPI News reported.
In October 2019, a Pennsylvania State University football player received a letter from an alumnus of the university saying his “shoulder-length dreadlocks look disgusting and are certainly not attractive,” USA Today reported.
On Dec. 19, 2018, Andrew Johnson, a wrestler at Buena Regional High School in Buena, New Jersey, was forced to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the competition after the referee argued that his hair did not comply with regulations, the Guardian reported. A year later, New Jersey passed the CROWN act, according to NJ.com.
“We know the history of discrimination against our people, against our hair and the way we express ourselves and our individuality as Black people,” said Alexis Burress, a sophomore marketing major and promotions chair for Temple University’s Black Student Union.
These are all examples of the perpetuation of negative stereotypes associated with Black hairstyles, exemplifying the importance of the CROWN Act.
The creation of legislation to protect Black individuals from natural hair discrimination is long overdue, and more states, like Pennsylvania, need to take action to ratify the act.
“[The CROWN Act] is amazing because I can’t imagine being unable to be and look yourself in a place of work or education since that is what you have to do in your everyday life,” said Nia Thornton, a freshman psychology major and member of the event committee for Campus Curlz, a natural hair and service-based organization at Temple.
But it’s unfortunate that laws regarding hair discrimination need to be enacted in the first place.
The belief that natural hair is unprofessional or unacceptable is an outdated and racist ideology promoting Eurocentric beauty standards as being superior. In passing The CROWN Act, states are showing solidarity with the Black community and taking a stand against different forms of discrimination we face. Pennsylvania should follow.
“It’s important to show that people aren’t alone,” Thornton said. “But more people still need to be shown that it’s okay to be Black and wear your natural hair. It’s okay to love yourself.”