CROWN Act: Hair discrimination bill moves closer to becoming law

This week the Minnesota House passed a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their hair. 

Although the house passed the same legislation in 2020, and it stalled in the Senate – advocates of the bill hope that this year will be different.

Long, natural, locs – that's been a signature hairstyle for 31-year-old Vachel Hudson for years. He takes pride in his appearance, which he says at times has drawn some scrutiny. 

"Just being Black in America sometimes, having dreads in general someone might see me as a thug," Hudson told FOX 9.

It wasn't until he began a career in the financial industry that he says he started to feel judged by how he looked. And then he says came "the talk." 

"I decided to cut my hair after the encouragement of supervisors and folks saying ‘Vachel, you’re handsome, you’d be much more cleaner, you’d be much more nice looking, you’d be much more successful,’" Hudson said. 

Under a new proposal known as the Crown Act it would be illegal to discriminate on the basis of hair appearance.

Democratic State Representative for District 59B Esther Agbaje describes what Hudson experienced as a form of hair discrimination. 

"Throughout history sometimes it’s been seen as messy or unkempt, which then continues to add to the negative stereotypes that people have about Black people. Particularly in America," Agbaje said. 

The Representative is the author behind the "CROWN" Act – the acronym stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair."

"It says explicitly that people of African descent in particular, but really anybody, can’t be discriminated by the appearance of their hair," Agbaje said.

The state House of Representatives passed the legislation this week with bipartisan support, but in 2020 the bill went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. The hope among advocates is that this year will be different. 

"We have a strong, rich, cultural heritage with part of that identity being related to our hair. And I think, however you want to wear it, however you find is comfortable for you to wear it, make sure that you show up for yourself," Agbaje said. 

"I’m never cutting my hair because someone advised me or suggested it," said Hudson. "It will be because I wholeheartedly want to."

The legislation would add hairstyle and texture to a provision in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which would among many settings, prohibit racial discrimination in housing, employment and education. 

So far, 14 states have enacted similar laws against hair discrimination.