At its regular meeting on Dec. 17, the New Orleans City Council passed a measure to prohibit discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations based on the way Black women choose to wear their hair. Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed the law days later. New Orleans City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno introduced the legislation earlier in December.
According to recent national studies, Black women are 50 percent more likely to be discriminated against or lose their jobs because they wear braids or other natural hairstyles.
Moreno’s ordinance is similar to federal legislation called the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act that aims to correct racial injustices by making hair discrimination illegal at the federal level. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, introduced the bill in December 2019 and passed the CROWN Act in September 2020. However, the U.S. Senate still has yet to hear or pass the bill, which was introduced there by Sen. Cory Booker.
While the effort has stalled at the federal level, cities and states around the country have taken steps toward similar protections in their own communities. California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, and Maryland have all passed CROWN Act legislation.
And cities, including Pittsburgh and Kansas City have done the same.
Councilwoman Moreno says it is time for New Orleans to join this movement.
“We know an overwhelming number of Black women report that they change their natural hairstyle to avoid prejudice in the corporate work environment. It’s unfair and speaks of pervasive discrimination in the workplace. We won’t let it happen here,” Moreno says. “New Orleans must do better and dismantle long-standing barriers to success for Black women, and this is just another step in creating an equal playing field where all can succeed. I want to thank advocates like Nia Weeks from Citizen SHE for helping bring this issue forward.”
The ordinance only applies within the boundaries of the City of New Orleans, but Councilwoman Moreno and advocates are seeking introduction of similar legislation before the Louisiana Legislature so that protections are applicable statewide in the private and public sectors.
Weeks has been advocating for some time now to make CROWN Act ordinances and legislation a reality in New Orleans and throughout the state.
“Black Women’s lives are intersectional. In every move we make, whether it’s gaining employment, seeking housing, or going to school, we have to consider every aspect of life, including how people react to how we look,” says Weeks, founder and executive director of Citizen SHE United, an organization that advocates for an annex the collective policy agenda to address the needs of Black women across Louisiana. “Our hair, although intrinsically a natural aspect of being human, is a space fraught with controversy that has had the ability to hinder our acceptance and capacity in all areas of life. This ordinance speaks not only as a letter of respect and care for Black Women in New Orleans, but serves as a device that will aid in removing harm placed on Black Women because of choice of hairstyle.”