Special to the Independent
Last week, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass legislation sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Senator Adam Gomez of Springfield that would end race-based hair discrimination in the Commonwealth. The bill– also known as the CROWN Act– prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair textures or protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks, and twists. The protection means that no school district, school committee, public school, nonsectarian school, or any equivalent school organizations, can adopt or implement policies that would impair or prohibit a natural or protective hairstyle that has been historically associated with one’s race.
Hair discrimination remains a source of racial injustice with economic consequences for Black people. According to a 2019 study, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. Currently in Massachusetts and many states across the country, it is legal to discriminate against a person in the workplace or schools because of natural or protective hairstyles. The CROWN Act corrects this injustice by making hair discrimination illegal in Massachusetts.
In his remarks on the bill during the Senate debate, DiDomenico emphasized the need for this legislation, highlighting that existing anti-discrimination laws in Massachusetts fail to protect employees and students who wear their hair in natural or protective styles from discipline. “Far too many people, especially Black women and children, experience race-based hair discrimination. I am incredibly grateful to the advocates who worked pass this bill and especially our young students who shared their stories about how they have experienced hair discrimination in their daily lives. We are certainly overdue to pass this legislation, but I am proud that we are finally taking this step today and making clear that natural hairstyles should be celebrated, not discouraged.”
“We must never forget how long and hard the struggle for true racial justice has been for Black and brown residents of Massachusetts, which is why I am proud the Senate listened to the voices of those residents and passed this critical legislation as one step toward breaking down discriminatory barriers,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The CROWN Act ensures that discrimination based on one’s hair style, which largely impacts Black residents, has no place in professional or school settings in the Commonwealth. I am grateful to Mya and Deanna Cook, who stood up and fought hard to right this wrong for Black women and girls across the state. I want to thank Senators Gomez, DiDomenico, Rodrigues, Lewis and Edwards, as well as their staff members, for their work on this issue, as well as all the advocates and allies for their collaboration. I look forward to seeing it signed into law soon.”
“Today’s passage of the Crown Act is a symbol from the Massachusetts legislature that we stand with women of color who have experienced hair discrimination,” said State Senator Adam Gomez (D-Springfield). “As a father to young women of color this legislation means a great deal to me, but legislation is just the first step. In order to change hearts and minds, you have to ensure that people know that this exists, that it is deeply wrong, and that it is something that many women of color have lived experience with. I would like to acknowledge the incredible activists who have brought this to the forefront of our minds this legislative session, my colleagues who co-filed the bill with me and championed it in both branches – Senator DiDomenico, Representative Tyler and Representative Ultrino, and Senate President Spilka and Chair Rodriguez for bringing it to the floor today for a vote. This was truly a team effort, and I am thrilled we were able to get it to the finish line.”
This legislation was inspired in part by sisters Mya and Deanna Cook, who as teens gained national attention after successfully overturning their school policy which had barred them from taking part in school activities. The National Crown Act Coalition has also had success in elevating the public narrative around hair discrimination, inspiring a movement to end hair bias and discrimination. In recent years, they have been successful in advocating for new laws in states across the country. With the Massachusetts Senate’s vote, the Commonwealth is slated to be the next state to enact the CROWN Act into law. If signed into law, Massachusetts would become the fifteenth state to adopt the CROWN Act. A version of An Act Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Natural and Protective Hairstyles having passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives, both branches will now work together on compromise legislation before advancing a final version to the Governor.