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The Black Hair Project

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Nnenna Eke-Ukoh

Pride in one's blackness includes pride in their hair, especially for Black women. For Black women, hair discrimination is not a new phenomenon. Race based hair discrimination negatively impacts how Black girls and women define and percieve blackness. Hair discrimination is a way to hire less people of color, especially Black women, and keep them out of professional fields and environments. Education wise, it uproots Black students from the learning environment and unnecessarily disrupts their learning. Pride in Black hair has grown significantly, but race based hair discrimination continues to negatively impact their self image/worth and how Black girls and women percieve blackness/ Black culture. Could the  Would the passing of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act) as a legal mechanism help alleviate race based hair discrimination particularly for Black women in the work place, institutions of higher education and in the larger social community spaces?
In response to race based hair discrimination, the creation of the CROWN Act came about. The CROWN Act made it illegal to discriminate based on hair styles and textures in the work environment and schools. According to ""Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown: A Critical Race Analysis of the CROWN Act"" by Britney Pitts (2021), In January of 2019, the CROWN Act was introduced in California by Senator Holly J. Mitchell and ""...expanded the definition of race to include hair texture and protective styling under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Education Code"" (pg. 720). Since the passing of the act in California in July 2019, the act gained more traction among other states. These states include: Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Louisiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. There are forty plus municipalities that have passed the act as well. Despite the few states that have passed this act, more states have either dismissed the bill or have not introduced a bill the protects people from hair discrimination. Pitts argues that the passing of the CROWN Act on a federal level is a necessity that increases educational and work opportunities for Black girls and women, as well as, ""affirms their aesthetic value, self worth, or central identity,"" (Versey in Pitts, 2021, pg 718). Pitt utilized real world examples to support her argument. In 2019 in the school setting, Black twin girls were expelled from extracurricular activities and banned from prom because they refused to remove their box braids. In 2019 in the work setting, a Black female newscaster was harassed by her white coworker who compared her natural hair to ""throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store,"" (Santi in Pitts, 2021, pg 719). She later filed a report for race based discrimination, but was instead fired.
There have been similar incidents all over the country since the beginning of the institution of slavery. There is more than enough evidence that clearly shows that grooming policies disproportionately affects Black people. In turn, ""are forced to shed their identity and Afrocentric roots to fit American standards of beauty, professionalism, and acceptability,"" both in the workplace and in educational settings (Pitts, 2021, pg. 719).
University / Institution: University of Utah
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Social Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Andrea Baldwin
Location: Union Building, PANORAMA EAST (9:40am)