State Legislation to End Hair Discrimination Gets a Mention at the Oscars

Karen Rupert Toliver, left, and Matthew A. Cherry accept the award for best animated short film for "Hair Love" at the Oscars.

Karen Rupert Toliver, left, and Matthew A. Cherry accept the award for best animated short film for "Hair Love" at the Oscars. Chris Pizzello/AP

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The winner of the animated short category mentioned the CROWN Act, a bill that prevents workplace and school discrimination against people with natural black hair.

It’s pretty typical now for national politics to get a mention at the Academy Awards, but still rare for state legislation to get a plug. Last night, however, one Oscar winner took time out of his acceptance speech to call for passage of the CROWN ACT, a bill that has been introduced in more than 20 states.

The CROWN Act, short for Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, aims to end discrimination against people with black hairstyles, including dreadlocks, twists, and afros. 

Matthew Cherry, the director of “Hair Love,” mentioned the CROWN Act while accepting the award for best animated short film. Hair Love follows the story of a father who learns how to style his daughter’s natural hair. 

"Hair Love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation, we wanted to normalize black hair and there's a very important issue out there, the CROWN Act,” Cherry said in his acceptance speech. “If we can help get this passed in all 50 states it will help stories like DeAndre Arnold's ... stop to happen.”

DeAndre Arnold, who was Cherry’s guest at the Oscars, is a high school senior from Texas who was suspended last month and told he couldn’t walk at graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks because they violated the school dress code. 

When interviewed by CNN about Arnold’s case, Tehia Glass, the director of diversity and inclusion for the University of North Carolina Cato College of Education, said that school policies like those in place in Texas are harmful to black students. "We see this emphasis of black people to conform to whiteness and to assimilate," Glass said. "They already envisioned what the ideal child should look like in school, and they wrote the rules based on that.”

School system officials have defended the policy of requiring male students’ hair be shorter than a t-shirt collar as applying to all students regardless of race. 

Arnold’s case is one of many around the country that have spurred state legislators to act in the past year. 

The CROWN Act first passed in July 2019 in California, with New York and New Jersey following in the same year. Since then, the legislation has been introduced in 22 states. Localities, including Cincinnati and Montgomery County, Maryland, have also passed the legislation as a local statute.

The CROWN Act protects both students and employees from discrimination based on the texture and style of their hair. 

“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment,” the legislation reads. “Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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