What limits should exist for employers, coaches and others in positions of authority in determining what lengths or styles of hair that others may wear?
It would seem that in modern society, the answer would be few — outside of health, safety and similar limits. But it’s one that is being addressed at the local level now that the Legislature has decided to ignore it on the state level.
Wednesday evening, the Charleston City Council unanimously adopted its version of the CROWN Act ordinance — Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The ordinance amends the city’s human rights code section to include protection for hairstyles such as braids, locks or twists. The ordinance prevents employers, businesses, agencies, organizations and others from firing, denying services or discriminating against people solely for their hairstyle or hair texture.
As explained by Gazette-Mail reporter Joe Severino, the CROWN Act movement started in Beckley in December 2019 when a Woodrow Wilson High School basketball coach told a freshman player, Matthew Moore, 14, that his dreadlocks were not “neat” enough and needed to be cut off.
CROWN Act supporters tried to get protection for hairstyles through the Legislature last year and this year, but they were unsuccessful both times. Charkera Ervin, a community organizer in Mercer County, decided to take the effort down to the local level.
“The importance of us doing it at the local level is that, you know, people on the local level can be so much more reasonable,” Ervin told Severino. “Obviously, everything at the statehouse gets politicized.”
Charleston is the third West Virginia city to enact a CROWN Act ordinance this year, following Morgantown and Beckley. Jennifer Wells, a community activist in Cabell County, said efforts are ongoing to see that a similar ordinance is enacted in Huntington.
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, has introduced the CROWN Act in the Legislature in the previous two sessions. Serving as West Virginia’s only Black female lawmaker, Walker said to expect the bill back as many times as it takes.
“The CROWN Act will be introduced every year until it is passed in the state of West Virginia,” Walker told Severino. “It is a real discrimination that many West Virginians face each and every day.”
Given the diversity in today’s world, it’s a mystery why this is an issue at all. Dress codes and hairstyles are not as rigid as they were in previous generations. Hair is another way for people to express themselves. Tattoos are mostly accepted now. Why not hairstyles? Braids, dreadlocks and similar styles can be as attractive as any other. So what’s the real problem here?
This is one of those things that really shouldn’t require a law, but sometimes it does.