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Louisville Metro Council passed a measure Thursday outlawing race-based, hair discrimination. The CROWN Act aims to put an end to eurocentric standards and racist stereotypes that label Black hairstyles as unprofessional. It bans restrictions on natural hair textures and styles including afros, braids, locks and twists and protects cultural head coverings against discrimination.

CROWN stands for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair”. Council member Jecorey Arthur brought the measure to the table, with the support of Council members Dorsey, Green, McCraney, Purvis, Piagentini, Shanklin, and President James. The effort aims to specifically target anti-Black bias within schools and workplaces across the city.  

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” Arthur said. “But we know there’s this little thing known as a loophole. And that brought us to where we are today.”

A 2019 Dove research study found that Black women across the country are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations. They’re also one-and-a-half times more likely to be disciplined at work because of their natural hair. 

Also nationally, Black students are more likely to be suspended from school for discretionary reasons like dress code or long hair restrictions, according to a 2021 Brookings Institute study

“These examples of discrimination have prevented people from employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and so much more,” Arthur said. 

Student activists have been lobbying lawmakers at the local, state and federal level to introduce the CROWN Act. During Thursday’s meeting, 10-year-old Louisville resident Renee Robinson explained why natural hair protections are necessary. 

“This is a modern day act of racism because they know not to say that ‘I don’t like you because of your skin,’” Robinson said. “Your hair is you, your hair is unique, your hair is your self esteem. So, if someone says your hair is inappropriate, that’s not okay.”

Robinson is a member of the Real Young Prodigys, a rap collective that breaks down complex issues, and uses hip hop to educate people. In February, the group released a music video, which Council member Arthur credited with motivating his introduction of the anti-discrimination statute.

Seven states, including Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, have already passed the CROWN Act. In Kentucky, lawmakers at the state level failed to pass it twice before. State Rep. Attica Scott, who championed the proposal, said its local passage could help the push for statewide acceptance and enactment of the CROWN Act.

“I have this vision of other cities and counties across Kentucky passing CROWN Acts between now and the beginning of the legislative session in January,” Scott said. “It’s going to be really difficult for the legislature to ignore this movement, unless they want to make it clear that they’re going to dig their heels even deeper into structural racism.” 

Until Thursday, Covington, Kentucky was the only city in the Commonwealth to adopt natural hair protections. Louisville’s CROWN Act went into effect immediately following Metro Council’s vote.

 

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.