Can I be happy to be nappy in Massachusetts?
How I wear my hair is my business. Ironically, the Commonwealth decides it is now legal for me to do so.
Last week, Massachusetts lawmakers debated whether to ban discrimination based on black hair texture and hairstyles. The bill has passed the State House and is now awaiting a Senate vote, which would make us the fifteenth state to comply with the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.)
Congress will make the same decision this week. The House has already passed the CROWN Act in a vote of 235 to 189 along party lines, which is to say, Democrats don’t mind me wearing my hair natural, but Republicans do.
The Cook twins inspired Massachusetts’ CROWN Act. In 2017, Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden banned twins Deanna and Mya Cook from playing sports after school and attending their prom because they wore hair extensions to school, in violation school policy. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey intervened on behalf of the twins. Healey sent a letter to the school emphatically stating that its policy “includes a number of prohibitions that are either unreasonably subjective or appear to effectively isolate students of color.”
In an anti-Blackness milieu, discrimination does not stop at skin color. This also includes our style of dress, music, dance, speech and hair. And our children are humiliated and punished because of racist rules and policies that discriminate against their hair texture and natural hairstyles.
It’s insulting that black people are controlled by lawmakers, that how we wear our hair depends on a vote. And it is insulting that racist norms in workplaces, institutions and schools have even turned the discussion into a debate.
The criminalization of black hair starts early for our children, sports being one of the areas. For example, in 2018, a video of a 16-year-old African American high school wrestler being forced to cut off his dreadlocks to compete went viral. The referee, who was white, told the young athlete that he had to get rid of his dreadlocks immediately or he would forfeit.
In 2012, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair was the subject of a ton of online discussion once she stepped onto the Olympic world stage. A tsunami of criticism poured in about her over-gelled and under-tamed ponytail. And – yes, that very touchy subject for African American women – her diaper edges. The complaint reinforced the misperception that no put together, accomplished black woman with fluffy, woolly hair could be happy to be in diapers.
And, in 2007, radio personality shock jock Don Imus insulted the Rutgers women’s basketball team, calling them “a few diaper-headed hos”. He touched a sensitive chord. “Nappy” pejoratively referenced as a racial epithet, as Imus did, is the other n-word in the African-American community.
African American women and girls experience some of the strictest standards regarding our hair, allowing workplaces, institutions, and educators to discriminate against us without repercussion. Even today, femininity and attractiveness are integrally tied to the long straight hair of white women, a lauded Eurocentric aesthetic.
And black women consistently walk away from it — and publicly.
In 2021, NBC Boston anchor Latoyia Edwards started wearing her hair naturally.
“For years I had straightened my hair as a news anchor at NBC10 Boston and other television stations, an arduous process that I believed to be an unwritten necessity for black news anchors,” Edwards wrote. for the World magazine. “This year I decided it was time – beyond time – to wear my hair the way it suited me. For me, that meant braids. Whatever the style, it’s high time girls and black women feel empowered to wear their hair the way they want — and for society to embrace it.
In 2020, Rep Ayanna Pressley revealed that she suffered from the autoimmune disease “alopecia”, causing her to be hairless. Pressley proudly and majestically displayed a bald head. Pressley, known for her signature Senegalese twists – her identity and political brand – has been criticized as “too ethnic” and “too urban”.
Black hairstyles go uncriticized when appropriated by white culture – especially when white celebrities wear our capped styles. In 1979, actress Bo Derek donned cornrows in her breakthrough movie “10.” In 1980, People Magazine credited Derek with making the style a “cross-cultural craze.” In 2018, when Kim Kardashian posted a video of herself flaunting braids on Snapchat, she credited them as wearing “Bo Derek braids.”
While many African American women today wear their hair in afros, cornrows, highlights, braids, Senegalese twists, wraps, or bald, our hair continues to be a battleground in the politics of hair aesthetics and the beauty of this country.
Black people have been in this country since 1619. It’s too bad the Commonwealth and Congress are voting on whether my hair is legal in 2022.