The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” protects “traits associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and hair styles such as braids, locs, and twists.”
According to a study by Dove, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. CeCe Ntanga recalls her own workplace experience where a focus on her difference -- her hair -- made her self-conscious.
“I had a full Afro and… there were the constant questions from my management on when I was going to do something different with my hair or asking me if I was going to do my hair, assuming that my hair wasn't done,” said Ntanga. “So I had the language of my appearance not meeting standards, language around professionalism. If my employer wasn't supportive of that my clientele wasn't either - just because of how my hair grew out of my head, that became the indicator of whether or not I was professional.”
Ntanga says the passage of the CROWN Act is a step in the right direction. She says people often forget Minnesota’s racist history because it's commonly thought of as a liberal state.
While the law will apply to all hairstyles, Black people have been particularly burdened by discrimination based on hair. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls) cited research showing that 80% of Black women have had to change their natural hair to fit in at the office.
Ntanga, who testified in favor of the bill during a house hearing, stresses that while people may think they are giving compliments when they comment on someone’s hair, it can sometimes be harmful.
“Let's respect boundaries,” she said. “I've had people when I'm out - strangers that I don't even know - just talk about how much they love my hair, and they just want to touch it, or they do touch it and I have to then literally pull my hair out of their hands. And then I'm finding myself having to educate them, in that moment, on why that's not okay - which I shouldn't have to do.”
In her daily life, Ntanga makes it a point to tell young people that their Black hair is beautiful, versatile, unique and they can express themselves through it. She says she is still on a personal journey to embrace her own hair in all forms.
“I would just say to uplift those that you see that are on these journeys. Also call out the negativity when you see it, getting into these spaces where decisions are being made,” said Ntanga. “Talk to your local council people, talk to your leaders and legislation, because without their support and their backing, the Crown Act would not have been passed. And then that also includes us being voting at the polls, showing up, showing up in the spaces where the work is being done and supporting it.”
Minnesota’s CROWN Act was signed into law on February 1.