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Why the CROWN Act Is So Important to Women With Natural Hair

Author Michelle Jackson talks about the CROWN act

Living in Colorado, having 4C hair was not the norm. While I never dreamed of having straight hair, I was aware that many people were endlessly fascinated with how my hair grew out of my head naturally. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered that my hair’s natural state could actually be held against me. Depending on who my boss was, my hair could be considered a distraction, not professional enough, or too big. 

The CROWN Act was created to address negative experiences that many women of color were reporting at work related to how they wore their hair. These women reported that their hair was creating problems for them professionally. And there was little that they could do to fight against employers, who discriminated against them because of their natural hair. Here, we are going to discuss why this act is so important to me and others.

Michelle Jackson as a child

The author as a child.

Getting My Hair Done Growing Up

First, let’s back up a bit. Growing up, almost every little girl—at some point—wears a ponytail. We all know what it looks like: hair pulled up in a way that is nice and tidy. My ponytail was the cute, little puffy ball of hair on top of my head. As I remember now, I grin inside, because almost every little brown girl that I knew wore this style at some point in her life. 

I recall sitting on the floor—with my mom on the couch—as she coaxed my hair into the style of the day. Like most children living in Boulder, Colorado, I spent a large amount of time playing outdoors. Some days we’d play in the creek, other days we would ride our bikes for hours in a circle. I would come home a bit dirty, but my ponytail would still be standing strong. 

One of my favorite childhood memories was being part of the hair rituals connected to maintaining and caring for curly 4c hair. Wash days were wonderful. They were especially great if my mom decided to take me to the salon to get my hair done (instead of doing it herself that week). 

It felt so grown up to go to the hair salon and get a deep wash, shampoo, and blowdry. I loved eavesdropping on the conversations that went way over my head. I listened to the warm laughter of the different stylists. And I watched the ladies leave with beautiful hairstyles—after their stylist blow dried their hair, dyed it, or used rollers to bump and curl it. 

I loved how my hair would go through a magical transformation as the stylist worked her magic on me. I especially liked it when she finished styling my hair and misted it with a wonderful-smelling finishing spray. My style would be a simple one, appropriate for young girls. Still, I always felt so beautiful and grown-up each time I left the shop.

My Hair Was Different

When I look back on that time, it surprises me that I only had a vague sense that my hair wasn’t like everyone else’s. Living in Colorado, I was a very visible minority. In fact, to this day, it can still be challenging to find a Black hair salon. For many women, braids, afros, and protective styles have been embraced. It’s just easier than committing to getting regular relaxers. The fact is: Colorado has dry weather, and it can be hard on everyone’s hair. It encourages them to focus on simplicity in their daily hair maintenance—versus complicated, high-maintenance styles.

How The Crown Act Changed The Way People View Hair In Colorado

Currently, African-Americans make up just 4.6 percent of Colorado’s overall population. With that number in mind, it was a welcomed surprise when the CROWN Act was passed in Colorado. The state of Colorado was the fifth state to pass the CROWN Act, the acronym standing for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The purpose of the CROWN Act is to provide legal protection in work spaces for employees who wear their hair in its natural state. 

This conversation—regarding how hair should be worn and what’s considered appropriate in different spaces—is nothing new. Throughout history, hairstyles have been used to communicate wealth and political leanings. Before the CROWN Act, conflicts often arose (and continue to) when people went to work or school, and their hair didn’t comply with office or academic standards. In fact, a recent case, the High Court of Jamaica ruled that a student could be removed from school, because her dreadlocks were considered “out of compliance with school standards.”

In more recent years, women who have begun to forgo chemical straightening and embrace their natural hair. For some women, embracing their natural hair is a way to show cultural pride. Other women just love the way their hair looks in its natural state. Tight kinky curls, bouncy afros, or gorgeous braids just make some women's lives easier. Unfortunately, what is considered beautiful is also considered disruptive by some.

It’s Time to Love Your Hair

Ultimately, the CROWN Act has helped women of all colors learn to lean into their natural hair more. If your hair is curly, learn to love it curly. If your hair is bone straight, learn to love it straight. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun with your hair, but rather that you can love it just as it is. 

The CROWN Act being passed in Colorado affirmed that women should not have to worry about being discriminated against based on how their hair naturally grows. I truly wish that the CROWN Act had been enacted years ago, as I struggled to learn how to love my hair. Even though I loved my hair when I was younger, the older I got the more aware and self-conscious I became. I realized that my hair wasn’t like everyone else’s. Like many women, I began to wish my hair was different than it was, and I straightened it for years. I just felt more “professional” with straighter hair. In my thirties my hair would end up being severely damaged from stress and excessive straightening. I’m sad to say that my hair no longer grows in the way that it used to, and I long for the days when it was healthy, curly, and big. 

Learning to love my hair was a long journey that started in a painful way. If I could turn back time I would proudly wear my hair in afros, braids, and whatever style caught my fancy. At least now I know that the state of Colorado will protect my right to wear my hair the way that I would like to. 

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