Remember growing up when mom leaned you over the sink to wash your hair for church Sunday morning? Hair maintenance was a weekend love affair that ended with a can’t-touch-this smile in the mirror.
What you didn’t know then is hair says something about a person’s personality. It is more than a look. The consciousness of the Black Panther Movement would have been different if Angela Davis rocked a Jheri Curl.
Often, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the significance of how our textured hair grows thick and strong naturally, and at times, defiantly—but it seems others do. They don’t like what it represents—our strength, our individuality, our resilience. They want us to subjugate it with chemicals or hide it under wigs or weaves. They are scared of the liberation and freedom of what our naturally textured manes represent.
“Braid it, loc it, crochet it, Senegalese twist it. It is your hair,” says Adjoa B. Asamoah, the Social Impact and Legislative Strategist for the CROWN Coalition. “Far too many of our children have missed school, are being suspended, [and have] had negative educational experiences because of hair. That is crazy on multiple levels. It is absurd.”
But, today, July 3rd, marks National CROWN Day—the second anniversary of the signing of the CROWN Act—legislation which declares race-based hair discrimination illegal—in an effort to “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Since initially passing in California, 13 states and 29 municipalities have now passed the legislation and a federal bill was recently introduced in both the House and Senate in March.
The CROWN Coalition, a national alliance founded by Dove, National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Color Of Change, has organized an entire day of virtual events, including an awards show and afterparty. “We are capable of changing society if we prioritize being a force for good. In these critical times, we must ask ourselves, ‘How can we help? How can we, our brands, be of service and help make life better for people?’ This means moving out of survival mode from ‘How can we grow and make money?’ to ‘How can we truly make a positive impact?’ says Esi Eggleston Bracey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of North America Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever (the parent company of Dove).
Bracey started at Unilever in 2018, the same year the country saw countless reports in the media of Caucasians essentially enforcing Eurocentric hairstyle standards on our community. Take for example: Chastity Jones in Alabama lost a job offer because she refused to cut her locs; Louisiana 6th Grader Faith Fennidy was sent home from a Catholic school in tears because she wore braided extensions, with the parochial educational institution calling the hairstyle unacceptable; and the following year, New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was forced by a referee to cut his locs or forfeit the match. Bracey was aghast at how our community’s natural beauty was viewed as being lesser than while other beauty standards were forced upon us. She enlisted her company to the call of action. “The conversation with Dove [to do something] was an easy one. We have always been known for beauty inclusivity.”
Bracey hired Asamoah to develop the legislative movement. “I know the psychological impact of being told that the way you were born is not okay,” says Asamoah, also a licensed psychologist who started her career working in K-12 education and juvenile justice. “I do nerdy things like figure out the composition of a legislature and where it is more likely to pass, when is the right time.” She is also the person to have on your team when you need people to sponsor the bill. “I don’t need to knock on doors to get things done. I called my friends who I work with, across a number of different spaces and asked them to join me in this fight on behalf of the CROWN Coalition.” An example: New York was the second to pass the CROWN Act because Asamoah called a Delta Sigma Theta soror, who called her college line sister, Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright. “But this is a part of a larger campaign to also shift culture and the narrative. I don’t want folks to think that race-based hair discrimination is new. This is not a new issue. The policing of Black bodies to include Black hair is not a new concept. We are now tackling it, legally—outlawing it. But the problem is older than I am.”
In 1786, the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Esteban Rodriguez Miró, passed the Tignon Law, a measure that forced Black women to cover their glorious manes with a turban-like headscarf to try to diminish their natural beauty and reduce their stature in society. Fast forward to this week: the International Swimming Federation (FINA) rejected the use of the Black-owned brand Soul Cap, a swimming cap designed to fit around the thickness of highly-textured hair, whether in its natural state, braided or in locs, during the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo.
The federation stated that the caps did not fit “the natural form of the head” and to their “best knowledge the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration.”
Danielle Obe, the founding member of the Black Swimming Association in the U.K., told the Guardian the ruling highlighted the inherent systemic and institutional inequalities around the water sports. “We believe that it confirms a lack of diversity in [aquatic sports],” she said. “We need the space and the volume which products like the Soul Caps allow for. Inclusivity is realizing that no one head shape is ‘normal’.” The regulation Speedo swim cap doesn’t work for tightly curly or coiled hair, she notes, because highly-textured hair “grows up and defies gravity.”
The FINA decision doesn’t just affect Olympians, however—swimmers of all ages will be banned from wearing the caps at local competitions. This ruling has the potential to discourage swimmers with natural hair from pursuing competition. Which leads us to think— is it just about our hair or is that they fear that we will soon dominate another sporting category that they currently reign, too? (That’s the power of our roots!)
“I don’t want to have to put things in my hair to meet Eurocentric standards of beauty; to be able to be gainfully employed or to be upwardly mobile; or to progress in my career; or to play sports, or to have a positive educational experience. We, [at the Crown Coalition,] are tackling all of that,” Asamoah emphatically states.
P.S. Here are the states where The CROWN Act has not passed: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Is your state one of them? Sign the petition to spread the word, and watch the inaugural CROWN Awards today, July 3rd at 7pm EST/ 4pm PST here on EBONY.com to learn more.