U.S. House passes bill banning race-based hair discrimination; Black Utahns fear its future in the Senate

Posted at 10:14 PM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-19 00:14:02-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Monica Chayee started braiding hair as a little girl living in West Africa.

“I was 12 years old and started learning how to do braids so I would be able to help my parents live," she said.

Chayee brought her services to Utah in 2008, opening the African Braiding Hair Salon. Braids are what Black hair needs, the stylist said.

“Braiding, it grows the hair, helps a lot to grow the hair," she said. "So like, what I'm doing now, she can keep it for a month, or three weeks, and she doesn't have to do anything in the morning, wake up in the morning and have to deal with brushing hair or anything like that. It's just like, get on and go to work.”

Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to ban race-based hair discrimination. The CROWN Act, or Creating a Respectful World for Natural Hair Act, prohibits "discrimination based on an individual's texture or style of hair." More than a dozen U.S. states have already passed similar versions of the CROWN Act into law. However, in the majority of the states in the U.S., including Utah, you can be turned away from a job, or even fired, because of your natural hair.

Alyssha Dairsow-Garfield, the founder and executive director of Curly Me, a nonprofit that educates and empowers young Black girls, has been fighting for a bill that bans hair discrimination in Utah for two years.

“I’m very grateful to be able, and that's even weird saying I've been grateful, to be able to go into a workplace with my hair in an afro because I know there are other people who can't do that," she said. "There are certain things that have been put in place, policies and work environments, that say that you can't show up as your authentic self, as your full self. And people hire you to bring your talent into the workplace. I can't be myself if I have to spend my whole weekend figuring out where to get my hair done."

State Sen. Derek Kitchen has been trying to change Utah's anti-discrimination laws for the past two legislative sessions. In 2020, the Democrat first brought forward Senate Bill 117, which would protect a person from discrimination, especially firing, over a hairstyle typically associated with their race or ethnicity. This year, he added “protective hairstyles,” such as braids, locks, afros, curls and twists to the definition. Both versions of the bills failed to pass.

“I can't style the curly kinky hair that grows out of my scalp in a way that makes me feel good so that I can come to work and produce what it is you hired me to do," said Dairshow-Garfield.

When she heard that the U.S. House passed the CROWN Act, she couldn’t believe it. She says the fight isn't over yet though; the bill heads to the U.S. Senate next, where widespread Republican opposition gives it an uncertain future. However, President Joe Biden has already expressed his support, saying he would sign it into law if it gets to his desk.

“I'm really confused," said Dairshow-Garfield. "And it's hurtful to say that we want to focus on other things, and it always feels like issues that pertain to Black Americans aren't important, but we helped build this country."