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Massachusetts joins wave of states banning racial discrimination against natural hair

A Black woman who fought for the law for years alongside her twin sister became emotional, calling the law a “win.”
Image: Deanna Cook wipes away tears after Governor Charlie Baker signed the CROWN Act at the Massachusetts State House on July 26, 2022 in Boston.
Deanna Cook wipes away tears Tuesday after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed the CROWN Act at the State House in Boston. Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts has joined the growing list of states that have banned discrimination based on natural hairstyles. 

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, on Tuesday signed the state’s version of the CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” 

Variations of the legislation have cropped up around the country in recent years. The new Massachusetts law, which was passed unanimously by both chambers of the Legislature, specifically guards against discrimination “based on hair texture, hair type and hairstyles.” The law includes, but is not limited to, “natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations.”

Next to Baker at the signing ceremony were Deanna and Mya Cook, Black twins who were at the forefront of pushing for the legislation. 

In 2017, the sisters were given detention and threatened with suspension for wearing braids at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, which the school’s dress code policy at the time prohibited. 

“Sadly, this type of disciplinary action is just as common as it is outrageous, as girls of color face many overlapping barriers to succeed in school, the workplace and even in society,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., wrote in an op-ed for NBCBLK in response to the incident at the time. 

California was the first state to pass legislation banning racial discrimination based on natural hair, in 2019. Since then, more than a dozen other states have enacted similar legislation, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The House passed a federal version of the law along party lines in March. The bill has stalled in the Senate. 

Research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2020 found evidence of bias against Black women with natural hairstyles in job recruitment across four studies. In 2016, a survey from the Perception Institute, a research group that focuses on social justice, found that Black women experienced higher levels of anxiety about their hair than white women.

“When you’re wearing your hair in any state, in any form naturally, and you’re told it’s not acceptable, it really is a personal attack,” Deanna Cook, one of the twins, said Tuesday. “To know that that can no longer happen in the state of Massachusetts is such a win.”

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