By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Hair is a lot of things to a lot of different people. It’s an identifier, a statement maker and in some cases, it’s a political statement. No matter how someone chooses to style their hair, the choice should be theirs, but that’s not always the case.
Communities of color, specifically the Black community have long been told how they can style their hair and what hair styles are appropriate for a professional setting. But in 2019, a senator in California Changed that.
That year, former Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair Act better known as the CROWN Act. The bill was passed unanimously in July 2019 and became law the following month.
When Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee) heard about the CROWN Act, she immediately thought of Wisconsin’s own Black and Hispanic population.
“I thought it was something Wisconsin needed to pass as well,” Myers said. “We would be the first state in the Midwest to actually pass the CROWN Act in its entirety.”
Last week, Myers introduced the CROWN Act for the second time. Previously, the bill never passed the Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics, but Myers is trying again. The bill is receiving hearings in both houses and if it receives an affirmative vote, it will be brought to floor.
Myers said she feels good about its chances.
“We had a good turnout last time and we had bipartisan support,” she said.
For years, African American hair has been policed, Myers explained. In the 1800s, Black women were told to cover their hair. Later, in order to be deemed professional or acceptable in society, Black people donned wigs and weaves or chemically straightened their hair.
“There are many different iterations on how we wear our hair as African Americans and Hispanics,” Myers said. “We should not be limited in how we choose to wear our hair in its natural state.”
If the CROWN Act is passed, it will offer protection to those who choose to wear natural hairstyles such as afros, braids, locs, twists, bantu knots and so on in professional and school setting. In other words, an employer will not be able to discriminate based on one’s hairstyle nor will students be unjustly punished.
“It is important because the only legal hairstyle for a person of color that is federally recognized is the afro and that was in 1976,” Myers said.
Myers said that if Wisconsinites wish to see the CROWN Act passed, they need to reach out to their legislators. While she anticipates support from her fellow Milwaukee and minority legislators, others could be hesitant or resistant to the affirm it.
“Quite frankly because they don’t have to think about how they wear their hair,” Myers said. “There are only nine African American that work in the state capitol as members and that’s out of 132 legislators.”
If and when the CROWN Act passes in Wisconsin, Myers said the next step and eventual goal is getting it passed in all 50 states and on a federal level. So far, the CROWN Act is law in seven states and 15 cities or counties. Wisconsin could be next on the list.
“The only way we will survive in the future is because of diversity and if we don’t take care of this now, this will continue to become an issue in small pockets later on,” Myers said.
“I think it is important for us to be on the cutting edge of this legislation at this time.”