Legislation clarifies that discrimination based on hairstyles associated with race is illegal

Cyril Josh Barker | 12/26/2019, 11:32 a.m.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act” (CROWN Act), clarifying that prohibited ...
Young girl with braided hair D Sharon Pruitt photo

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act” (CROWN Act), clarifying that prohibited race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.”

The law was introduced after Andrew Johnson, an African American high school wrestler at Buena Regional High School, was forced to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a match last year.

“Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey,” said Murphy. “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity.”

The CROWN Act updates the “Law Against Discrimination” to clarify that prohibited race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.” As defined in the bill, the term “protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, “such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” This change is intended to remove any confusion or ambiguity over the scope of the “Law Against Discrimination” and its applicability to race discrimination predicated on such traits.

Primary sponsors of the bill include Senators Sandra B. Cunningham, Nia H. Gill, and Shirley K. Turner and Assemblymembers Angela McKnight, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shanique Speight, and Britnee Timberlake. New Jersey is the third state in the U.S. to pass this legislation along with California and New York.

“I am proud to see New Jersey become just the third state in the nation to put an end to this discriminatory practice. This law will ensure people of color are free to wear their hair however they feel best represents them, whether that be locks, braids, twists or curls. No one should ever be told it is ‘unprofessional’ to embrace their culture,” said Cunningham. “It is unacceptable that someone could be dismissed from school or denied employment because they wear their hair exactly how it grows, but that has been the reality for many Black and Brown individuals. Today, here in New Jersey, we’ve changed that.”