Professor Wendy Greene was quoted in a March 12 Washington Post article on the effort to pass legislation banning discrimination against black hairstyles in Maryland.
Stephanie Smith of the Maryland House of Delegates introduced a bill fashioned after the 2019 California CROWN Act, the first statewide law in the United States to define race discrimination inclusive of discrimination on the basis natural and protective hairstyles such as twists, locs and braids. On Monday, the Senate passed the House version of the legislation.
Greene, who served as legal expert for the California CROWN Act, testified before the Maryland legislature last week in support of Smith’s bill. “For centuries it’s been lawful to discriminate based on our hair texture,” said Greene. “It takes a lot of time to dismantle these deeply embedded norms. It takes a long time to change the culture.”
The impact and prevalence of race-based hair discrimination gained national attention in 2018 after Andrew Johnson, a New Jersey high school student, was told by a white referee to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a school wrestling match because the style was, in the referee’s opinion, “unnatural.” Video footage of Johnson’s hair being shorn at the competition went viral.
Since the CROWN Act passed in California, several other states have expanded anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture. In December 2019, U.S. Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill to Congress to address the issue at the federal level.
Greene, an authority on race, gender and the law, is the author of a forthcoming book, #FreeTheHair: Locking Black Hair to Civil Rights Movements, which will be published by the University of California Press.