The CROWN Act hasn’t ended hair discrimination in Texas

Jennifer Wyatt Bourgeois and
Jennifer Wyatt Bourgeois Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Justice Research - Texas Southern University
Howard Henderson

November 28, 2023

  • State-level versions of the CROWN Act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination, contain loopholes that enable the discriminatory targeting of Black hairstyles.
  • The persistent policing of Black students’ natural hair sends the message that their hair is inherently unprofessional, inappropriate, and worthy of suspension and leads to disparate academic outcomes.
  • Only through robust legislative protections, proactive enforcement, and a fundamental shift in mindset can we create school environments where Black children are free to embrace the inherent beauty and dignity of their natural hair.
Black student suffers from headache while studying at the library.
Credit: Fizkes/Shutterstock

Outdated grooming policies banning natural Black hairstyles have fueled racial inequities in schools and workplaces for too long. However, a new wave of legislative reforms and public advocacy aims to finally dismantle this form of discrimination. The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) has emerged as a legislative solution, prohibiting race-based hair discrimination. To date, the CROWN Act has been enacted in 24 states and numerous municipalities but has stalled in the U.S. Senate after passing through the House. Additionally, some state-level versions of the CROWN Act still enable discriminatory targeting of Black hairstyles.

In Texas, the CROWN Act left loopholes allowing bans on hair longer than two inches, which explicitly singles out and prohibits natural Black hairstyles like afros and dreadlocks on male students. By failing to bar restrictive policies on length and color, Texas’ version of the CROWN Act falls short of fully preventing race-based hair discrimination. Such gaps at the state level undermine the spirit of the CROWN Act and must be addressed through truly comprehensive reforms that protect all facets of Black hair. This gap between legislative success and real-world implementation, as evidenced by the suspension of a Texas student months after the Act’s passage, highlights the need for comprehensive legislation to fully address hair discrimination. Moving forward, legislation must address hair length, color, texture, and style to create truly inclusive policies without loopholes that permit discrimination.

Hair policies that regulate length and color have specifically targeted Black students, leading to disproportionate discipline and loss of educational opportunities. National data reveal that while Black students represent 15% of the K–12 population, they account for 31% of all school suspensions. Black students nationwide are missing nearly three times as many school days due to suspension as white students, accounting for a disproportionate number of the total 11 million days of lost instruction. In one school district in Texas, research from the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University found that Black students are seven times more likely to be suspended compared to white students, often for discretionary, minor behavioral infractions. Repeated suspensions increase the risk of falling behind, dropping out, and having contact with the juvenile justice system. In fact, one study revealed a concerning cycle—students who were suspended from school were seven percent more likely to later have contact with the juvenile justice system. Moreover, once these students returned to their schools after suspension, they were 20% more likely than their peers to face another suspension.

The consequences of hair discrimination extend beyond the classroom. A 2021 study found that Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to be recommended for a job interview compared to white women with curly or straightened hair. Natural hairstyles like dreadlocks were deemed less professional. This employment discrimination limits economic mobility and forces Black women to incur the financial and health burdens of damaging chemical treatments, including increased uterine cancer risk from chemical straighteners.

To achieve the goal of ending hair discrimination, the CROWN Act must expand to cover all facets of hair style and presentation without exceptions, such as those found in the Texas version. Congress should pass the federal CROWN Act, joining states like Colorado and New Jersey in enacting more comprehensive bills that close loopholes. Enforcement will also require dedicated resources and training. School administrators must learn how to shift away from punitive dress codes toward supportive, culturally-informed policies. Human resource professionals need guidance on removing Eurocentric appearance standards from hiring and grooming practices.

The CROWN Act reflects an important step towards ending race-based hair discrimination. However, true progress requires closing loopholes that allow for continued disproportionate enforcement against Black students and workers. Comprehensive legislation coupled with proper training and enforcement provides a path forward to ending harmful policies rooted in white supremacist standards. Schools and workplaces must move beyond narrow beauty norms towards valuing diversity in how individuals present themselves. This includes embracing and protecting all hair lengths, textures, and colors.

Why it matters

Hair discrimination limits educational attainment, career opportunities, and economic mobility for Black Americans. It also exacts a psychological and physical health toll by forcing assimilation to white beauty standards. The CROWN Act has the potential to eliminate centuries-old institutional policies and stereotypes that perpetuate racial inequities and trauma.

However, achieving this goal depends on enacting legislation that fully encompasses all facets of hair, including length, texture, color, and style. Comprehensive legal protections coupled with training and enforcement can help create more inclusive environments, where individuals are empowered to show up authentically. Getting the CROWN Act right matters for racial justice and equality of opportunity.