Inspired by CROWN Act, Minnesota lawmaker introduces bill to protect natural hair

The topic of natural hair gathered some attention during this year’s Oscars as “Hair Love” won the award for Best Animated Short Film.

The film brought black hair to the center stage in Hollywood. Now, the push for natural hair has landed at the Minnesota Capitol as a state lawmaker works to protect people who wear their natural hair.

Representative Rena Moran introduced a bill similar to the CROWN Act, which is short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. The law would make it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their hair style or texture by expanding the state's definition of race to include those attributes.

"African American women and men are beginning to love our hair, love our style and love who we are, recognizing there are policies and procedures in place that don't always celebrate that," she said.

Rep. Moran said she used to be one of the 80 percent of African American women who straighten their hair to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty. But this year, she is wearing her hair in braids during the legislative session for the first time in her 10 years as a state lawmaker.

"I can be a part of showing that braids are a natural process that we love and celebrate, and even within this body that it’s OK."

At Global Braids in St. Paul, 90 percent of customers come in to get their hair done in braids, locks and twists. But for some, like JD Williams, wearing his hair in dreadlocks can mean strange looks at work or people treating him like he's a criminal.

“Honestly, I got tired of paying $25 for a haircut once a week, so I let it grow natural,” he said. “People make me feel like I'm not intelligent. If I walk into a bank and I say, ‘good morning sir,’ they say 'what's up, brother?' To me there's a disconnect there."

Williams said it’s about time the law caught up to the changing times because no one should be discriminated against for bringing their hair back to its natural roots.

"I'm just a firm believer that everything should be based on merit. It doesn't matter what you look like as long as you bring something to the table. It shouldn't be an issue," he said.

The CROWN Act was passed in California, New York and New Jersey. Similar legislation has been introduced in 20 other states. 

Rep. Moran will share her personal story when her bill is heard before the House committee Thursday morning.