Rep. Moore presides as House debates bill to ban job discrimination against natural Black hair
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in December 2021. (Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images)
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) presided over the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as it debated a bill Friday that would ban workplace discrimination based on the texture or style of a person’s hair. The measure passed the House 235-189.
The bill is aimed at protecting Black men and women who are seen as unprofessional because their natural hair doesn’t fit with white beauty standards. Moore said in a floor speech last month that she has been discriminated against because of her hair and that the passage of the bill, known as the CROWN Act, will prevent that from happening to anyone else.
“My being instilled with low self-esteem started before I got to kindergarten and it all revolved around my nappy hair and the way it just coiled,” Moore said in February. “Two minutes is not long enough to carry you on this journey of what it’s like to have your employers being told you’re making them look bad because of the way your hair looks and having hot combs, lye, all chemicals being burned so you could look white.”
“When I ran for this office in 2005, because I had so many pictures of my hair coiffed in a European style, my handlers wouldn’t let me change it,” she continued. “After 20 hours of campaigning every day, I had to figure out how to straighten my hair out. Thank God for the CROWN Act and thank God for being able to stand here under the E Pluribus Unum as my authentic, nappy-headed self.”
The bill, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, was introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) and has 116 cosponsors, including one Republican. A Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-New Jersey), who himself doesn’t have any hair.
“Throughout United States history, society has used (in conjunction with skin color) hair texture and hairstyle to classify individuals on the basis of race,” the bill text states. “Like one’s skin color, one’s hair has served as a basis of race and national origin discrimination. Racial and national origin discrimination can and do occur because of longstanding racial and national origin biases and stereotypes associated with hair texture and style. For example, routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros.”
In a statement, Moore said the pressure to change their hair is an obstacle for Black people in the workplace.
“Black women, men, and children face discrimination for wearing their natural hair texture and experience serious obstacles at work and school because of it,” Moore said. “On top of that, Black women in particular face pressure at work to style their hair in a way that’s considered more acceptable because too often, the consequences for not doing so are real and deeply felt. I am honored to join my colleagues to protect against hair discrimination and ensure every Black person can style their crown as they please.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said that the bill is a step toward depoliticizing natural Black hair.
“For centuries, Black folks’ hair — particularly that of Black women — has been politicized and weaponized to discriminate and reject the dignity and beauty of our people,” Pressley said. “By passing the CROWN Act out of the House today, we’re taking a bold step toward ending race-based hair discrimination and affirming the right for all of us to show up in the world as our full and authentic selves, no matter where we work or go to school. I’m so grateful to Reps. Watson-Coleman, Lee, Omar and Moore for their partnership. I’m honored to co-lead this bill and look forward to seeing this critical bill signed into law.”
Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon (R-Omaha), the bill’s only Republican co-sponsor, said incidents of hair prejudice have been increasing and the legislation helps get rid of bias against people at work, school and in government programs.
As recently as 2018, the bill text states, Black members of the U.S. military weren’t able to wear their natural hair because it was seen as “unkempt.”
“No one should be discriminated against because of their race, gender, or even their hair,” Bacon said. “Unfortunately, there has been an increase of race-based hair prejudice in the workplace, schools, and within federal assistance programs. I’m glad to work with Rep. Watson Coleman to eliminate this bias and start enforcing more equity within our community.”
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