Imagine being sent home from work or school because you decided to wear your natural hair, you felt like adding a little flair with highlights, or maybe you wanted to try a new braided hairstyle. It's a reality that many minority Americans face and now SAG-AFTRA, an entertainment union representing at least 160,000 members, is urging Congress to pass the CROWN Act.
In 2019, a video of high school wrestler Andrew Johnson went viral after referees at a match forced the teen to cut his hair or be disqualified from competition. The video was hard to watch for many as the young man stood and had his hair unprofessionally cut by the team's trainer. Uproar was swift and the referee in question was disciplined, but the issue of hair discrimination found new life again as a national topic of conversation.
Almost a year after the incident, the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair (CROWN) Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. If passed, it would federally outlaw discrimination on the basis of hair texture and style that are typically associated with a specific race or nationality. The bill sat in the House of Representatives for three years until it was passed earlier in 2022 in a 235-189 vote, largely along party lines.
"I applaud House Republicans and Democrats joining together today and passing legislation that will allow individuals, especially within the Black community, to wear their hair proudly without fear or prejudice," said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of the co-sponsors, said in a statement shortly after the bill was passed.
In a letter to Congress, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland noted the importance of the protections the law would extend to Americans and called on the government to ensure that anyone, regardless of race, should be able to freely style their hair as they please. Notable actors like Kerry Washington, Rosario Dawson, Don Cheadle, and Niecy Nash-Betts also signed on to the letter.
The union said that part of its goal in writing the letter was to get the ball rolling on a plan to ensure that there is equal opportunity hiring in Hollywood, particularly in hair and makeup roles.
"We've made strides in our own industry, but we have our union backing us up and not everyone has that. Until our nation's leaders say, in no uncertain terms, that it is not acceptable to discriminate against someone based on their hair, private employers and institutions will continue to skirt the issue with ease," actor Jason George said in a statement.