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New CT Law Combats Hairstyle Discrimination

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Some 83% of Black women report feeling "judged" on their appearance more than others in the workplace. Connecticut's new CROWN Act aims to change that. (Adobe Stock)
Some 83% of Black women report feeling "judged" on their appearance more than others in the workplace. Connecticut's new CROWN Act aims to change that. (Adobe Stock)
 By Michayla Savitt - Producer, Contact
March 12, 2021

HARTFORD, Conn. - Legislation creating a respectful and open world for a person's natural hair - known as the CROWN Act - is now state law in Connecticut.

A signing ceremony was held Wednesday, with speeches from Gov. Ned Lamont, the bill's legislative champions, and community supporters.

Melinda Johnson, director of Community Engagement and Advocacy with the YWCA Hartford, spoke at the event, and said the CROWN Act is an example of transformative legislation that combats racist practices.

"If an individual experiences this form of discrimination, they have the right to pursue a lawsuit," said Johnson. "That, in and of itself, validates what Black and Brown people have been experiencing for so long, and had no ability to seek justice for."

The law includes acceptance of ethnic hair texture and styles in the workplace.

In 2019, a study by the beauty-products company Dove found that one in five Black women working in an office or sales setting said they've had to alter their natural hair in order to feel accepted at work.

Growing up, Johnson said she was told by others - from family members to other Black women - that she had to "look the part" to land a job.

"Part of that had to do with how my hair was presented, and making sure that it was 'up' and straight," said Johnson. "So, when I got into the workforce, and when confronted with Eurocentric grooming standards, it didn't seem like it was a problem, because I had already been cultured to suppress my identity in these spaces."

Johnson asserted her story is not unique. She said every Black person - man or woman, boy or girl - has stories of discrimination involving their hair.

The CROWN Act aims to change the narrative.

According to Johnson, the problem won't be solved simply through anti-bias education, but needs direct action.

"And it shows that as a state, we recognize that discrimination and racism is a structural and a systemic issue," said Johnson. "It's one that cannot just be conquered by education or other means of conformity, that this is something that we have to set standards for."

While its backers see the CROWN Act as a big win, Johnson said he hopes Gov. Lamont will declare racism a public-health crisis, and that lawmakers will take action to push for a better quality of life for all Connecticut residents.

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