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From Lye & Perms to the Crown Act: Evolution of Black Hair Discrimination [Interview]

Hair discrimination has once again become an important topic of discussion and reflection since 2020. The CROWN Act has come up again but in the House of Representatives. Racial tension has been high since the death of George Floyd and others over the past year. Writer and US correspondent Brittany Christian, takes us into why hair discrimination is so important to the black community.

Discrimination against black hair continues in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways in present day America. For years, black Americans (and Canadians) have hidden the volume and gravity-defying hair through perms, straightened hair, and wigs, and some still continue to do so. As hair straightening products continue to be popular among the black American community, the cosmetics and beauty industry keep benefiting from promoting the image of the hair-types from cis-white Caucasian women as the golden standards of beauty. However, change may be looming with the passing of the CROWN Act.

The CROWN Act was passed on September 21, 2020 by the House of Representatives. Before this, the CROWN Act was passed in California on July 3, 2019. This act prohibits discrimination based on hair style and texture associated with race or national origin. Created by the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Coalition, this act makes it illegal to discriminate against hair at schools and workplaces. In essence, the name of the act explains the concept of the black being equivalent to a hair – the thicker the hair, the larger the crown.

The revolution to fight back against the oppression and discrimination of natural hair of the black community has been going on for years, with beauticians playing an important part of the movement. The underlying racism associated with discriminating against any hair type and hair style that is not a part of the mainstream cis-Caucasian sleek and straight is being increasingly recognized and challenged by members of the black community. Below, we share the words of two such members of the black, beautician community, who have been fighting to promote natural black hair for years. They believe in the importance of black individuals and everyone else to accept their natural hair – from dreadlocks and braids, to puffs and manes.

American Beautician & Salon Owner Speaks About The Importance of Embracing Natural, Black Hair

Randii Latrice Renfro is the owner of Ralaren

Randii Latrice Renfro is the owner of Ralaren, a hair salon based near the Memphis Airport. She was born and raised in Memphis, TN and has been a beautician for 20 years. Renfro opened her shop to get “black people to embrace their natural hair.” Renfro said that natural hair is important to the black community because “It’s a part of our identity. It’s our crown and it holds our power and confidence.” She believes that our natural hair gives us that drive to be kings and queens. She also believes that discrimination against black hair has changed. Renfro said, “Because the black community is embracing it more in places like Hollywood.” Renfro understands that discrimination against hair is real, and it contributes to unemployment of blacks. She stated, “Sometimes hairstyles can keep you from getting a job and it takes away the confidence that you have in yourself when you have to change your hair to meet others’ standards.” She believes her shop is spreading the word about black natural hair.

Canadian Stylist on Hair Oppression

Canada is not immune to issues of hair discrimination. Lebanese Candian Hairstylist Nancy Gh from L Mondo Hair Moda in Ottawa has owned her salon for 14 years along with her mother. She believes that “hair is a huge part of women’s appeal and beauty.” Her salon combats hair oppression by “charging the same price for all hair textures” and she continues to educate herself on different methods of colouring and styling to be able to cater to each client’s individual needs. She has gotten a few clients who shared their stories of horrible experiences of hair oppression. She believes that as a hairstylist, it is her “duty to continue education on these issues, and broaden our views and skills.”

The Future of Black Hair Discrimination

Since the 90s and the time of Madam CJ Walker, African Americans have fought for many rights they should have including jobs. Hair styles are something that shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to your identity but it is. Society has made certain hair styles more acceptable than others. African Americans have paid for it with trying their best to hide their hair through wigs and perms.

Over the last five decades, African Americans have been pushing for them to let their hair free. African American women started to accept their hair, and do their best to style and take care of it. In the late 2000s, Natural hair shops were beginning to pop up and many people were educating others on taking care and doing their natural hair in the African American community. In the 2010s, African Americans in Hollywood took to the trend of their natural hair. African Americans were taking part in making sure their hair was a part of their identity and just like their skin, shouldn’t be discriminated against for the likes of others. Hence, the origination of the campaign: Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

African Americans have long since owned up to and embraced their natural beauty and continue to do so. There have been issues of hair discrimination in the US such as a Black Texas Teen not being able to graduate because of his dreadlocks or a charter school in Boston giving detentions to black girls who had their hair in braids. It is still an ongoing issue, but the revolution is gaining traction, both legally and socially.

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