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Massachusetts becomes latest state to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles

By Virginia Langmaid, CNN

Massachusetts has become the latest state to ban school officials and employers from discriminating against people based on their natural hair.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law Tuesday the Act Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Natural and Protective Hairstyles, or CROWN Act.

The law bans workplace and school discrimination based on the use of natural or protective hairstyles, which includes natural hair texture, as well as styles including twists, braids, and Bantu knots, all often worn by Black women.

Mya and Deanna Cook, sisters who received detention in 2017 under a school dress code restricting hairstyles and whose experience spurred the development of the law in Massachusetts, spoke at the signing.

“I never thought we’d be here. It was one of the hardest things,” Deanna Cook said.

“Knowing no one will go through that again, it means the world, it really does,” she said.

“I remember back to when we first got in trouble for this and going down to the principal’s office and being nervous because I knew I was going to get in trouble for my hair, and now no one’s going to have to go through that,” Mya Cook said.

“I came in this building very young and it’s very difficult being young, but you are brave and just know that your identity matters to us,” state representative and Chairwoman of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus Chynah Tyler told the Cook sisters at the signing.

“We will do whatever we can to make sure that we protect your identity and to make sure that your academic experience and your workforce experience is culturally sensitive to you,” she said.

The CROWN Act is already law in more than a dozen states, according to the Pew Research Center, after California first passed it in 2019.

However, many states have not passed formal legislation, with more and more Black students saying they’ve been penalized for their hair.

In March, the US House of Representatives passed a CROWN bill, which has yet to be passed by the Senate. If passed at the federal level, discrimination based on natural hairstyles would violate federal civil rights law.

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