‘Breaking Down Invisible Barriers’: New Bill Protects Black Michiganders from Hair Discrimination

A sales associate at Mid-K Beauty helps a customer to select a wig in Portland, Oregon. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

By Kyle Kaminski

May 25, 2023

After years of Republican blockades, a bill to outlaw hair discrimination in the workplace is now inching closer to state law. 

LANSING—Nearly all Michigan Senators voted this week for new legislation that aims to protect Black Michiganders from workplace discrimination based on how they wear their natural hair.

State lawmakers said the 33-5 vote on Tuesday sent a clear message: “Hair discrimination has no place in the state of Michigan,” state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said in a statement.

“For years, Michigan’s Black community has told us that addressing hair discrimination is an essential step in making sure that Michigan law reflects the values of our state,” she added. “Our job as lawmakers is to lift the voices of the often unheard in the halls of power.”

And Senate Bill 90 (otherwise known as the CROWN Act) does just that, Anthony said. The title of the legislation is an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”

The bipartisan bill—which still needs to be passed by the state House of Representatives and garner a signature from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before it can become a law—would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on “traits historically associated with race”—including hair texture and common Black hairstyles like braids, locks and twists. 

The bill would also shield Michiganders from hair discrimination in all places of “public accommodation,” including at entertainment and educational facilities, and public transportation. Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said the bill is particularly “necessary” for Black Michiganders. 

“Hair-based discrimination is among the forms of structural racism that many Black people have faced. Only recently have we acknowledged racism as a public health crisis and simultaneously turned keen attention towards improving mental health,” she added. “The CROWN Act is not only a matter of racial justice, it’s a matter of protecting and preserving Black mental health.”

Research shows an overwhelming percentage of employees of color in the workplace feel their success or reputation is negatively impacted when they choose to style their natural hair texture or wear protective styles such as braids, locks, twists and knots. Surveys have also found that most Black women choose to change their natural hairstyle during job interviews. 

Lawmakers said the CROWN Act helps in “breaking down these invisible barriers to success.”

“Embracing natural hair is not a political statement or a trend, but an essential part of affirming the humanity and dignity of all individuals,” Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) said in a statement. “With our collective effort to dismantle entrenched biases, challenge discriminatory policies, and create inclusive spaces, we move closer to building a society that values and respects the inherent beauty of every individual, regardless of their hair texture or cultural background.” 

The legislation—which Anthony first introduced in 2019—was repeatedly left to languish in various committees under Republican leadership. But this year, under Democratic control, the bill has found new momentum, including bipartisan support from the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the ACLU of Michigan. 

Still, five Republican lawmakers voted against the legislation on Tuesday—including Sens. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell); Jon Bumstead (R-Muskegon); Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton); Jonathan Lindset (R-Coldwater) and Jim Runestad (R-White Lake). Runestad was also the lone no vote on a recent Senate resolution to declare Juneteenth as a state holiday in Michigan.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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