A new Economic Policy Institute report details the impact of hair-based discrimination on Black and brown people and documents the growing momentum to pass the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act.
Twenty-four states across the country—including Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, and Illinois—have passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits hair-based discrimination at work and school. However, over 44% of Black women—or roughly 4.1 million—currently employed live in states that have yet to pass the CROWN Act. That makes it critical for Congress to pass the CROWN Act nationwide. The U.S. House passed the legislation in March 2022, but it did not pass the Senate.
Hair-based discrimination can make it harder to get a job, particularly for Black women. A 2023 research study found that Black women’s hair is 2.5 times as likely as white women’s hair to be perceived as “unprofessional.” Another study found that candidates with curlier hair were less likely to be recommended for hire and scored lower in assessments of professionalism and competence.
Once work is secured, Black women with coily or textured hair are twice as likely to experience microaggressions at work as Black women with straighter hair. Over 20% of Black women ages 25–34 have been sent home from their jobs due to their hair.
“Black and brown people—and especially Black women—regularly face discrimination in schools and the workplace based on the texture and style of their hair. This is yet another form of racial discrimination and yet another way to control and police Black and brown people,” said Jasmine Payne-Patterson, report author and senior state policy coordinator for EPI’s Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN). “The CROWN Act is a critical tool to fight discrimination and address systemic racism in the workforce. We must continue to push for the CROWN Act’s passage at the local, state, and federal levels.”
The CROWN Act would add safeguards across the country to protect workers from discriminatory firing or punishment based on their expression of culture, religion, and identity through their hair. Strengthening workplace protections may also help address pay inequity, especially between Black women and white men. In 2022, the median hourly wage for Black women was 69.5% that of the median wage for white men. Over the span of a year, this equates to a $17,000 loss of income for a full-time worker.
“There is no such thing as good hair or bad hair. Having to cover up or change ethnic hair gives the sense that you should hide who you are to become who society wants you to be. Students and employees of color should have the right to walk in a board room or on a basketball court without the threat of racial discrimination or loss of access or participation in activities,” said Kyra Roby, senior policy analyst at One Voice, a civic engagement organization in Mississippi. “States like Mississippi and across the country should support policies like the CROWN Act that promote inclusion for all.”
“I remember on numerous occasions scrambling before interviews to ensure I had my weave or wig styled in a way that would fit into a white-dominated setting. I was afraid to be seen as less than or be stereotyped for the hair texture I was born with,” said CaSandra Glover, formerly of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. “I should be able to wear my hair naturally without any shame because my hair is my hair and it’s something I should be proud of.”