Thursday, February 22

Black students urge passage of Crown Act to end hair discrimination

Campbell’s experience has drawn comparisons to a December 2018 incident in which Andrew Johnson, a Black varsity high school wrestler in New Jersey with dreadlocks, was forced to choose between cutting his hair or forfeiting his match. Johnson, then 16, went on to win the match. His experience of him sparked a state civil rights probe.

In Minnesota last month, a mother said her 12-year-old son’s teacher cut his Afro without her permission. Tadow McReynolds posted a video of her son’s botched haircut to TikTok that she said was viewed more than 1 million times. In a series of Facebook posts, she said her son de ella “was really violated” and that the school had acknowledged no fault.

McReynolds declined a request for an interview, saying she wanted her and her son’s lives “to be back as normal as possible.” The school’s principal, Matthew Kasowicz, who is white, declined to comment on McReynolds’ allegations, saying he was prohibited under state and federal law from discussing individual students or employees.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, DN.J., the lead sponsor of the Crown Act, said hair discrimination disproportionately affects Black people, and how a person wears their hair has no impact on their ability to do a job, obtain an education or compete in sports.

“As a student, this is an insidious form of discrimination,” Watson Coleman said in an interview. “It needs to be eliminated. There needs to be consequences for those who violate that law.”

She said the bill would amend civil rights laws to extend the definition of illegal discrimination to include natural hair or hairstyles that people wear to communicate or emulate the African or Black culture, such as Afros, braids, Bantu knots, locs and twists.

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Diamond Campbell’s hair products.Imani Khayyam for NBC News

“We shouldn’t have to deal with this at this time, in 2022, in the most diverse country in the world,” Watson Coleman said. “And to see these events continue to take place suggests the very urgent need to pass this legislation in the Senate.”

When Desiree Bullock moved from Cincinnati to East Bernard, Texas, in February, she said she was prevented from enrolling her son, Dyree Williams, in East Bernard High School because of his hair. She said a guidance counselor told her his hair went against the school district’s dress code policy for male students, a copy of which she provided to NBC News. It states that “braided hair or twisted rows/strands will not be allowed” and that boys’ hair may not extend below the eyebrows, tops of the ears or a “conventional standup shirt collar.” The majority of students at the school are white, according to data from the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Bullock said she told the counselor that her son has locs, and she said the counselor replied, “Well, he’s going to have to cut those.” Bullock said she then contacted Courtney Hudgins, the superintendent of the East Bernard Independent School District, to seek an exemption for her son from her but she was shot down. In an email shared with NBC News, Hudgins told Bullock: “Assuming the children can meet the dress code requirements, as well as all necessary paperwork for enrollment, they are welcome to enroll with our district registrar.”

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Reached via email, Hudgins did not answer specific questions regarding Bullock’s allegations, including whether Williams’ locs would prevent him from enrolling in the high school. In a statement, Hudgins said the school district “has not denied enrollment to the individual involved in this situation, as no enrollment or registration documents have been filed. East Bernard ISD intends to comply with state law regarding enrollment and attendance if and when an enrollment application is completed.”

Image: Dyree Williams
Dyre Williams.Courtesy Desiree Bullock

Bullock, who provides home care for students and adults with developmental disabilities, said she is now home-schooling her son and two of her other children, ages 12 and 14. Williams said he feels like he is being discriminated against and that being home- schooled has prevented him from competing in high school sports, something he looked forward to.

“It really impacted me hard,” he said.

Bullock said the episode has also taken a toll on his self-esteem, but she has assured him he doesn’t have to change his hair for anyone.

“The type of parent I am, I talk to my child all the time and I let him know, whatever they think about you, that’s something within them, not you,” she said.

Bullock is hopeful the Crown Act will become a national law.

“I do plan on staying in Texas,” she said. “I actually plan for that law to pass and for things to change.”

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