Whitmer Signs New Law to Protect Black Michiganders from Hair Discrimination

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the CROWN Act into law on Thursday.

By Kyle Kaminski

June 15, 2023

After years of Republican blockades, a bill to outlaw hair discrimination in Michigan has finally made it into state law.

LANSING—A new state law signed this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will protect Michiganders of color from being discriminated against based on how they wear their hair.

“Black Michiganders must be able to wear their natural hairstyles however they choose and not feel forced to change or straighten their hair for interviews, work, or school,” Whitmer said in a statement, labeling the newly signed legislation an “important step forward” for racial equity.

Senate Bill 90—otherwise known as the CROWN Act—was signed into law Thursday after passing the state Senate nearly unanimously last month. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” 

And that’s exactly what Anthony says the new law will do for Michigan.

The CROWN Act amends the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to specifically prohibit discrimination on “traits historically associated with race”—including hair texture and common Black hairstyles. It effectively shields all Michiganders from hair discrimination in all places of “public accommodation,” including at entertainment and educational facilities, and public transportation. 

“Choosing to wear your hair in braids, locs, twists or other protective styles associated with race should not mean you are sent home early or passed up on a promotion,” Anthony said in a statement. “The CROWN Act gives a voice to the often overlooked in the halls of power.”

Hair discrimination has long been a barrier to success for people of color in Michigan. Research shows an overwhelming percentage of Black employees feel their success or reputation is negatively impacted when they wear their natural hair in the workplace. Surveys have also shown that most Black women feel compelled to change their natural hair during job interviews.

Among them: State Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit.)

“For years I thought my natural hair was unacceptable and would potentially limit my job opportunities,” she said in a statement. “I gave in to societal pressures and used chemicals to straighten my natural thick curly hair for decades, only later to be diagnosed with alopecia. I am grateful this legislation is being signed into law, so that others with hair like mine will know Michigan is a safe place to express one’s natural authentic hair, without fear of discrimination.” 

Michigan is now the 23rd state to enact legal civil rights protections against hair discrimination. 

The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act already prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status. An amendment added earlier this year also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“Hate, bias, and bigotry have no place in our schools in any form,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement. “Children have a right to feel welcome and supported in our schools.”

Added Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist: “You should be able to be yourself in Michigan.”

The legislation—which Anthony first introduced in 2019—was previously left to languish in various committees when the legislature was under Republican leadership. But this year, under Democratic control, the bill 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 state senators voted against the legislation last month—Sens. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell); Jon Bumstead (R-Muskegon); Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton); Jonathan Lindset (R-Coldwater) and Jim Runestad (R-White Lake). Seven Republican state representatives also opposed the legislation when it came up for a vote in the House last month.

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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