The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2116 bill on March 18 — the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act” or the CROWN Act — with a vote of 235 to 189.
What is this legislation about? It is a bill that outlaws discrimination “based on the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.” The hairstyles that the bill includes as examples are “hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots and Afros.”
These hairstyles mainly pertain to communities of African descent. Some states have passed similar legislation. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), who introduced the bill and is African American, raised that Black people have been denied employment, housing, federal assistance or equal treatment due to their hairstyles, a reflection of one’s national identity.
The bill now goes before the Republican-dominated Senate for passage. This is the same Senate that has held up the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 that sought to bring about some modest reforms in addressing police abuse and murders.
The CROWN bill, while progressive in addressing the ongoing bias against the culture of mainly African Americans, at the same time speaks to the institutionalized white-supremacist attitudes that permeate every aspect of U.S. society and that are not just isolated instances.
The great Philadelphia 76er basketball player, Allen Iverson, was once ostracized by the National Basketball Association white hierarchy for wearing cornrows. Iverson’s immense popularity, due to his fearless style of play, admired mainly by Black and white youth, made him an important icon for the Hip-Hop generation and culture during the mid-1990s.
In December 2019, 16-year-old African American wrestler, Andrew Johnson, was given an ultimatum by a white male referee during a competition — either have his dreadlocks cut off or forfeit his wrestling match. Wanting to compete so badly, Johnson made the painful decision to have a white female trainer cut his dreadlocks. This occurred in Buena Vista, New Jersey, only two years ago!
The same referee who made the ruling on Johnson’s hair claimed it violated the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rule that all hair should be covered while competing. This same white referee was accused of using a racial slur against a Black referee in 2016. There was no doubt that Johnson was humiliated and traumatized by this incident.
Prisoners won lawsuit to keep hairstyle
Back in 2020, WW covered a case of two African American prisoners, Eric McGill and Leonttay Pratt, who were relegated to solitary confinement for months for wearing dreadlocks due to their Rastafarian faith. The men were first imprisoned at Lebanon County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania for not being able to make bail. As a result of a number of lawsuits targeting this facility, the county jail was forced to pass a narrow religious exemption to this racist policy.
The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, which represented these prisoners, released a statement saying, “While this new policy protects the rights of incarcerated people to wear dreadlocks for religious reasons, it does not address the larger issue that Lebanon County still bans dreadlocks when people have them for reasons other than religion. Contrary to Lebanon County’s assertions, dreadlocks do not present inherent security or cleanliness concerns. Indeed, dozens of jail and prison systems across the United States permit incarcerated people to have dreadlocks.”
The WW article, written by co-director of the Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party Ted Kelly, goes on to say, “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1994 stated plainly that ‘any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities,’ constitutes a violation of the genocide convention.” (workers.org/2020/05/48514/)
There are many forms of war carried out at home and abroad by U.S. imperialism. For example, there is the current instigated U.S.-NATO threat of war against Russia which could lead to a wider war. There is the ongoing war against Black and Brown people in the form of police terror inside the U.S. And this war includes the attempted cultural genocide that the CROWN bill addresses.
The fact that such a bill had to be passed in the year 2022 is an indictment of a racist system that relies on demonizing African and other Indigenous cultures of oppressed people to maintain its class rule.