Bill Would Ban Discrimination Against Black Hairstyles In Wisconsin

Black people couldn’t be discriminated against because of their hairstyles under a bill being considered by Wisconsin state lawmakers.

The bill, sometimes known as the “CROWN Act,” would ensure racial discrimination protections in state law for things like employment, housing and education would be expanded to include “traits historically associated with race,” including hair texture and hairstyles like braids, locs and twists.

State Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, one of the bill’s sponsors, said some workplace policies for personal grooming and appearance “inadvertently discriminate” against Black people.

“In workplaces throughout the nation, including in our state, grooming standards and policies that were thought to be race neutral often inadvertently discriminate against people of color,” Myers said during committee testimony on Tuesday. “What this bill does is promote equity and provide equal footing and level the playing field for people of color in the workplace.”

Another sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who is Black, said she has worried about the effect of her hairstyles on her professional life.

“I did question whether my hair would stop me from getting a good grade, an internship, employment offers, a promotion, or even what view someone might have of me when I knocked on the door to ask them to vote for me,” Taylor said. 

A 2020 study from Duke University found Black women with natural hairstyles, including Afros or braids, are often perceived as less professional than Black women with straightened hair, especially in certain industries. 

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Several states, including California, New York, Colorado, Maryland and Virginia, have already approved similar measures. No groups have registered opposition to the proposal in Wisconsin.

However, during debate, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, said some have raised concerns about lawsuits claiming hair discrimination when it didn’t happen.

“The stakeholders around the country and even in this state are saying we’re going to be settling cases out of court to avoid looking like we’re being racist,” Wichgers said. “This bill isn’t getting the momentum it could get throughout the country. It’s still an uphill battle in the state of Wisconsin.”

Supporters argue other states with the law already in place haven’t seen an influx of lawsuits.

Current state law bars race-based discrimination in housing, education, service as a juror, adoption, and “the equal enjoyment of a public place of accommodation or amusement,” as well as in insurance and banking services. The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents is also prohibited from investing in companies that practice racial discrimination.

The bill has yet to be voted on in an Assembly or Senate committee.