The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
A bill to specify that Minnesota law prohibits discrimination based on hair styles and textures cleared the House with bipartisan support Monday.
The CROWN Act — which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” — would add a definition of race to the Minnesota Human Rights Act that includes “hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locks, and twists.”
The bill is designed to prevent discrimination against Black people based on their hair. Fourteen other states have adopted similar language, which supporters say would prevent unfair treatment and ease fears among Minnesotans of color of losing jobs or educational opportunities over how they choose to wear their hair.
“I have felt the pressure to straighten my hair because of the fear of losing a job, or not being able to be taken as seriously. I straightened my hair for most of my life, only recently allowing myself to be natural,” said bill author Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis. “I’m glad to be carrying this bill to ensure that people have the freedom to show up as they are, in school, at work.”
Hair straightening can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and hair straightening products have been found to contain toxic chemicals.
State legislatures across the country started taking up bills like the CROWN Act in 2019, after a video showing a Black high school wrestler in New Jersey being forced to cut his dreadlocks ringside put a spotlight on the longstanding issue of discrimination based on natural hair.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has already taken on cases of discrimination based on hair under the law’s prohibition of racial discrimination, Commissioner Rebecca Lucero told lawmakers during a recent committee hearing..
Still, the department supports the bill because it’s “important to explicitly name the protection in our statute,” Lucero said, citing cases in other parts of the country where judges ruled human rights laws didn’t extend to unfair treatment based on hairstyles and textures.
On the House floor, Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, said a manager at one of her first professional jobs told her she would be more authoritative if she straightened her curly hair. Hollins said the comment made her feel “inherently inferior,” regardless of her qualifications.
Hollins said passing the CROWN Act would help reduce discrimination, given that companies design their human resources policies around state law.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.
A Senate companion bill hasn’t received a hearing so far this session.
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