(The Hill) — The House passed legislation on Friday that would prohibit discrimination against people with hairstyles associated with a particular race or national origin.
Lawmakers passed the bill, titled the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN, Act, largely along party lines, 235-189. Only 14 Republicans joined Democrats in support of the measure.
House Democrats originally put the bill up for a vote in late February under a fast-track process typically used for noncontroversial measures that require a two-thirds supermajority for passage. But it failed to pass under that process due to widespread GOP opposition.
Democratic leaders subsequently scheduled a vote on the legislation under a rule only requiring a simple majority.
Proponents of the measure argued that formally banning hair discrimination is necessary because Black people are often penalized under workplace and school dress code policies that frown upon hairstyles such as afros, braids and cornrows.
More than a dozen states have passed laws to formally ban hair discrimination. The Massachusetts state House became the latest on Thursday after it passed a version of the CROWN Act unanimously, following a push by two Black teenage girls who were suspended from school events over their braid extensions.
“For too long, Black girls have been discriminated against and criminalized for the hair that grows on our heads and the way we move through and show up in this world,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
Black women in particular are more likely to report feeling discriminated against because of their hairstyles.
A 2019 study conducted by the JOY Collective found that Black women were 80 percent more likely to feel that they had to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.
In 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against an Alabama insurance claims company arguing that it wrongfully denied a job to Chastity Jones, a Black woman with dreadlocks. The company allegedly told Jones it did not permit dreadlocks under its grooming policies and said she would need to cut them as a condition of her employment.
A federal district court in Alabama dismissed the claim, stating that the hiring decision didn’t meet the claim of racial discrimination because hairstyles aren’t immutable traits like skin color.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case in 2018, but the court declined.
House Republicans questioned the need for the legislation on Friday because they believe existing law that bans race-based discrimination is already applicable.
“It’s covered. It’s wrong if it happens,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Jordan spent much of his remarks making the case that the House should be considering legislation related to inflation or record-high gas prices instead.
“The Democrats today, Friday, March 18, 2022, with chaos all over the place, this is what they’re focused on. This is what they’re focused on,” Jordan said.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), the bill’s sponsor and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, accused Republicans of failing to understand the discrimination that Black people face.
“I understand that my colleagues on the Republican side don’t get the vast array of discriminatory practices because they spend so much time trying to perpetuate an all-white society here in the most diverse country in the world,” Watson Coleman said.
“But nonetheless, this bill is vitally important. It is important to the young girls and the young boys who have to cut their hair in the middle of a wrestling match in front of everyone because some white referee says that your hair is inappropriate to engage in your match,” she said, appearing to refer to the case of a Black high school wrestler, Andrew Johnson, in her state in 2018.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, given the widespread GOP opposition. At least 10 Senate Republicans would have to support the bill for it to overcome any filibuster.
President Joe Biden has expressed support for the legislation and indicated he would sign it into law if it reaches his desk.
“The president believes that no person should be denied the ability to obtain a job, succeed in school or the workplace, secure housing, or otherwise exercise their rights based on a hair texture or hair style,” the White House said in a statement earlier this week.
The statement added that the Biden administration “looks forward to working with the Congress to enact this legislation and ensure that it is effectively implemented.”