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Elizabeth Wellington: America's beauty queens are all black. So why do we still need natural hair laws?

By Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

When reigning Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris were crowned earlier this month, they made all kinds of #BlackGirlMagic history as they joined Miss America Nia Franklin in the role of the country's most supreme beauty queens.

After centuries of seemingly endless horse manure about why black women - especially the darker-hued among us - aren't as beautiful as white ladies, this validation is undeniable. At this moment in time, black women have been deemed the most beautiful - and elegant - women in the country.

I can get with that.

My surge of excitement, followed by a burst of good, old-fashioned we-have-overcome pride, was short-lived. Try as I might, I was torn.

On one hand, I wanted to celebrate these gorgeous women's achievements and bask in the glow of being one step closer to our elusive racially equitable society that is most certainly on the horizon. Right?

But I couldn't help but think that while we were reveling in this achievement, black women (and men) are still defending our beauty choices.


It's to the point that last month, Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Holly J. Mitchell was compelled to introduce a bill in the California state legislature that bans schools and workplaces from writing dress codes that forbid braids, twists, and other hairstyles that are suited to a black person's natural hair. For years, Mitchell argued, black people have had to use untoward techniques and harmful chemicals to manipulate their hair into unnatural states that are acceptable to a Eurocentric beauty standard to not just fit into the status quo, but also to be considered clean and well-groomed.

The law, appropriately referred to as the C.R.O.W.N. law, an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair, passed the California State Senate and is now on its way to the State Assembly. Mitchell introduced it, she said, because she was weary of seeing black children and teenagers - like Buena Vista wrestler Andrew Johnson, whose locks were sheared at the behest of match referee Alan Maloney - humiliated "because their natural hair was deemed unruly or a distraction to others.

Speaking of locks, in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that it's legal to refuse to hire a person with dreadlocks. This was after Catastrophe Management, a company in Mobile, Ala., rescinded a job offer to Chastity Jones because she wore the style. The company's human resources manager reportedly told Jones her hair was unkempt.

So basically a style that lends itself to a healthy head of hair - I am living proof of that - is subject to discrimination because certain people say it can be unkempt. Are you kidding me? The amount of messy buns I see in the office ...


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