In the summer of my senior year, my private school updated its dress codes and introduced a ban on the use of head wraps, except for religious purposes. This new rule was off-putting to me and many of my Black peers because wearing headwraps is deeply ingrained in Black culture as a protective style. Under the Tignon Laws of 1786, Black women in New Orleans were required to wear head wraps. These laws were designed to oppress Black women and erase Black hair from society. Today, Black women are reclaiming the head wrap, and Black people generally are embracing more natural hairstyles, but racist and sexist dress codes are still used to oppress people, particularly women and people of color. Black students are often disciplined or humiliated in schools for their hairstyles. The news story about a young Meanwhile, research shows that Black women who wear natural hairstyles in the workplace are often seen as unprofessional. While my peers and I protested our school’s discriminatory dress code and got the school to revoke it, not everyone can successfully fight back. (Such rules are also, unfortunately, the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discrimination faced by Black people in school, work, and other settings.)  

That’s why we need a federal law, like the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, to protect people with natural hairstyles from discrimination. Sadly, recent attempts to enact such a law failed. While the Crown act was approved in the US House of Representatives in 2022, the bill was blocked in the Senate. In the absence of a federal law against hair discrimination, various states are taking matters into their own hands. So far, 23 of 50 states have passed their own version of the Crown Act. In those states, students and individuals are now less apt to be judged by their appearance than by the quality of their contributions in school or the workplace.

In the other 27 states, however, Black and biracial people may still be forced to choose between changing their hair to conform to a biased (aka White) standard or being kicked out of school or losing a job opportunity.

The good news is a number of companies and organizations have teamed up with Dove, the National Urban League, and others, including the Divine 9 sororities to push for federal passage of the Crown Act. Let’s hope they succeed.

In the meantime, you can support this effort by signing a petition and calling on congressional legislators to outlaw hair discrimination at the federal level. I think it’s high time we lived in a world where everyone is respected and accepted, regardless of their hairstyle or what they wear. Don’t you?

Ena Walker was a summer 2023 communications intern