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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware CROWN Act to be heard in Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday

January 26, 2021

DOVER – Legislation to protect people of color from facing discrimination based on their hair styles will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and could receive a vote on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

Senate Bill 32, also known as the Delaware CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), is designed to prevent students, workers, tenants, and others from being subjected to unequal treatment due to their braids, locks, twists and other hairstyles or hair textures historically associated with race.

“Delawareans of all races and ethnicities – but particularly people of color – should not have to wait any longer for the General Assembly to pass legislation that advances fairness, equity and justice in our state,” said prime sponsor Senator Darius Brown, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Black hair is a fundamental part of the Black experience,” said Senator Brown, D-Wilmington East. “This legislation will make it clear that the State of Delaware does not accept our appearance being used as a weapon of harassment and discrimination. We are proud of who we are as African Americans and will not allow ourselves to be shamed by insensitivity to our culture, our history or our hair styles.”  

A number of high-profile hair-discrimination incidents have been reported in recent years, including a New Jersey high school wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks at a match; a 6-year-old student who was forced to quit a private Christian school in Florida; an 11-year-old sent home from school in Louisiana for wearing hair extensions and a 19-year-old Banana Republic employee who was ordered to remove her box braids.

A recent study by the Unilever personal care brand Dove found that Black women are particularly targeted by workplace discrimination related to their hair. The study found that Black women’s hair is more likely to be perceived as unprofessional, while Black women are more likely to be made aware of their employer’s workplace appearance policy and more likely to be sent home because of their hair.

“For as thrilled as I am to be the House prime sponsor of the CROWN Act, one must also wrestle with why there is a need to have such legislation,” said Rep. Kendra Johnson, D-Bear. “As a professional Black woman, having to worry about whether my hair was too ethnic was awful, yet I complied to assimilate as to ensure that I would get that job, or that my Caucasian colleagues didn’t view me in a less-than-favorable manner because of my natural, kinky, braided, or twisted hair-styles. If that meant getting my hair straightened or donning a wig because my natural hair is often thought of as unprofessional and the job interview was on the horizon, I did. So, I am thrilled, but I recognize that we still have work to do. This legislation alone signifies that truth.”

To date, seven states – including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia – and the U.S. House of Representatives have passed some version of the CROWN Act, while more than 15 other states have introduced similar legislation.

Senate Bill 32 is identical to legislation introduced by Senator Brown in January 2019, one of many proposals that did not receive a vote last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The legislation specifically would include hair texture and protective hair styles in the definition of race used in the 31 sections of Delaware code that protect against discrimination. Those laws cover equal accommodations, fair housing, jury selection, employment practices, hate crimes, education and numerous industries regulated by the state.

Several individuals and groups are expected to speak in favor of Senate Bill 32 when it is heard in committee at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The CROWN Coalition, an alliance of organizations dedicated to the advancement of anti-discrimination legislation across the United States, is among the supporters.

“Dove is so excited to see Delaware, with Senator Brown’s leadership, taking action to join the seven states who have made hair discrimination illegal” said Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of North America beauty and personal care at Unilever, a founding member of the CROWN Coalition “We are proud to be a part of this important movement and cultural moment.”

“Hairstyle discrimination is a gatekeeping tactic that contributes to the systemic oppression of Black people and violates our civil rights,” said Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, senior campaigns director of Color Of Change, a nonprofit racial justice organization. “Senate Bill 32 aims to promote greater equity by protecting Black adults, teens and children in Delaware from unjust disciplinary action for wearing locs or other protective styles in our schools and workplaces. Color Of Change thanks Senator Brown for his leadership on this legislation, and we urge Delaware to join seven other states in enshrining these necessary protections into law.”