The Law and Black Hair

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Photo by Jo Jackson.

By: Darlene Edwards 

This story is the result of our freelance community journalism training program. 

“Our hair in its natural form is not a choice, it’s just who we are,” said MN Representative  Rena Moran (65A-DFL).

African women from all corners of this earth have had to deal with hair stigma. What’s acceptable and what is not, what is professional and what is not. 

Minnesota State Rep. Rena Moran is pushing the agenda surrounding black hair through the “Crown Act,” which has moved through the House, but not the Senate. 

According to Rep. Moran, 80% of Black Women have altered their hair to fit into an unicentric society. 

In her own personal journey, Moran altered her natural hair to feel more inclusive on a job where there aren’t many people who look like her. Straight hair has always been more acceptable for women of color in a professional work setting but these hairstyles only complimented the norms of European hair texture.  After learning about the work California and other states were doing around hair stigma, Moran made a conscious decision to show up at the Minnesota State Capitol with her braided hairstyle. 

“I’m going to be ok with this, and fight for something that I say is beautiful. It’s natural and who we are,” said Moran.

Mainstream and white, Eurocentric societies have made it very clear that European hair types were and are professional, glamorous, and preferred. It’s a preference that has stigmatized African women all over the world and de-centered African definitions of beauty.  

The History of Black Hair 

“Black Hair” culture is significant and important to the African American community because of history and heritage. For so many women of color, the beauty of natural hair is sometimes overlooked, often stigmatized, and widely unknown. 

The Zulu people of South Africa were known for their Nubian knots, a hairstyle enriched with African roots. The Zulu knots, also referred to as “bantu knots,  which translated to ‘people’ in many African languages” is considered one of the more ethnic hairstyles for African Americans. Although this style originated hundreds of years ago, this African-inspired hairstyle is still relevant, cultivated and rocked by many women of color today.   

In the United States, after the Emancipation, a notion arose that European hair was “good hair” and African kinky hair was “bad.” Straighter hair became the trend amongst African women and men. Products were developed to make straightening people’s hair easier and with it arose increased distaste for natural African hair. 

Around the 1960’s and 70’s the natural hair movement began to push Black communities to accept their hair. The Black Power movement denounced straight hair and the products used to do so, urging Black people to return to their roots. Activists like Angela Davis rocked their natural hair including afros, but there was also backlash painting those afros as unprofessional. 

It wasn’t until the 1980’s and 90’s that black folk seemed to move away from what society was saying about black hair. The hair do’s and up dos for this era was highly creative and full of expression. You could finally see black hair displayed in music and on television, although misrepresentation was common. There was no limitation on black cultural hairstyle creativity, but if you wanted a mainstream job, these hairstyles were not suitable for America’s corporate world. 

“Legalizing” Black Hair 

“We have to know how to come together collectively around injustices and inequities and fight as a collective to say, this is wrong, this is not ok,” said Moran.  

The “Crown Act” – the generic title for legislation aimed at ending hair discrimination – first passed in California and then in other states like New York, and New Jersey was signed into law making hair discrimination illegal. This bill aims to ensure hair texture and hair styles are protected from discrimination in the workplace and in the K-12 public school system, with the intent to stop hair discrimination across the country. 

Contact your legislator if you have any questions on the “Crown Act.” For general information or to find out who your Representative is, contact a legislative librarian at 651-296-8338 or visit https://www.leg.state.mn.us/


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