ROCKVILLE — Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando and Council President Nancy Navarro introduced a bill on Sept. 24 that would prohibit discrimination based on protective hairstyles.
The legislation clarifies the county’s anti-discrimination law to incorporate hair traits that are historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles like braids, locks, tight curls and twists.
The bill, which is officially filed as Bill 30-19, is also called Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or the CROWN Act.
“The goal of this legislation is to clarify the definition of what hair types are covered under the definition of protected styles,” wrote Jawando in the description of the bill. “Montgomery County is a majority-minority county with over half the population identifying as people of color. Black and Hispanic women make up about 36% of the population. At over 200,000 women and girls, Black and Hispanic women account for the highest number of ethnic populations in Montgomery County. In the context of discrimination, hair style policies are used as a tool to discriminate against Black and Hispanic women in the workplace.”
California and New York have already enacted laws like the CROWN Act, and the topic has garnered considerable attention from beauty brands such as Dove.
In fact, Dove partnered with the National Urban League, Color of Change and the Western Center on Law and Poverty to create the CROWN Coalition.
“While all women experience pressure to conform to certain standards of appearance, Black women are unfairly impacted. Society’s bias has enabled discrimination against Black women’s hair, including being judged differently based on hair texture and hairstyle,” Dove wrote in a press release. “A Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work (and) black women are 50% more likely to be sent home or know of a black woman sent home from the workplace because of her hair.”
Dove went on to note that natural hairstyles inherent to the Black identity, such as bantu knots, braids and locks, are ranked lowest for job readiness.
Jawando cited his own daughters’ hair as inspiration to get this bill passed in Montgomery County.
“The fact is that hair discrimination is an offshoot of racial discrimination and prejudice that we are all committed to exposing and eradicating,” he said. “But there’s also a very personal reason that I’m introducing this bill today, hearing my littlest daughter, 5-years-old, ask me why her hair isn’t straight like the other little girls at school, and saying that she thought it would be better if it was (straight).
“The goal of Bill 30-19, the CROWN Act, is ultimately meant to end race-based discrimination based on hair and eradicate the notion that professional(ly) appropriate hairstyles are coded to only really mean white standards of grooming in beauty.”
Jawando went on to explain that children are often very cognizant of appearance, especially when seeing other students and teachers at school and on television.
He explained that in communities of color, hairstyles are inherently connected to racial identity.
“We have seen discrimination arise because of the connection of identity with people of color in their hair. In these outdated standards have been unfairly and unjustly used as a weapon to discriminate against people of color. That must end, and it will end here,” Jawando said.
Navarro, who is a co-lead sponsor on the CROWN Act, also cited her daughters as the driving force toward getting legislation like this on the books.
“I know that for myself, specifically (this is important because), having raised two very amazing young Afro-Latina women who started in the workforce, in the corporate world and made a conscious decision to wear their hair natural and having to hear from them about what that means,” Navarro said. “I think it’s wonderful that at least we’re finally beginning to have these conversations openly. I think it’s wonderful to acknowledge that especially for young women, but also men, this decision is often quite an extraordinary, pivotal, central issue.”
Ultimately, Jawando explained, the new legislation will make it easier for people who have been discriminated against because of their hairstyles to file a civil lawsuit and seek action through Montgomery County’s Office of Civil Rights.
“That means no matter where the discrimination occurs at the job site, in a taxi or applying for accommodations, you have the right to be protected against discrimination based on your appearance,” he said.