Missouri has yet to pass the CROWN Act. What’s at stake?

In Black culture, hair that grows in its unmanipulated state can be a contentious subject. Black hair care is a billion-dollar industry with roots in St. Louis. The industry started as a way to process thick, coily hair to be “tamed” in an effort to assimilate to what was seen as the standard of beauty in the Western world for decades.

In recent years, Black people have regained confidence in their natural textures and cultural hair styles, despite lifetimes of marketing and policy to the contrary.

Then Frizz Fest was born.

Leslie Hughes, CEO and founder of Frizzy by Nature

Tyler Small


Frizz Fest

Leslie Hughes, CEO and founder of Frizzy by Nature

The St. Louis festival has celebrated natural Afro-textured hair since 2017 and has grown exponentially since. Leslie Hughes, founder and CEO of Frizzy by Nature (the nonprofit that hosts Frizz Fest), began the festival to connect to her own natural roots while grieving and healing from her mother’s death.

“[Frizz Fest] was created to encourage self love and inspire confidence among women. … [After losing my mother] I went into a form of depression, self-hate. [I was] lost and passionless,” Hughes told St. Louis on the Air. “But prior to that, I had ‘went natural,’ and I really got into the natural hair movement.”

Hughes is one of millions of Black women who quit using chemical hair relaxers, also known as perms, for personal and health reasons. Dress codes in schools and workplaces, however, still often target natural Black hair and cultural hairstyles.

Gabrielle Hays is a communities correspondent for PBS NewsHour

Miya Norfleet


St. Louis Public Radio

Gabrielle Hays is a communities correspondent for PBS NewsHour.

Discrimination of Black natural hair permeates workplaces and schools through policies that either outright prohibit or give a vague description of what is deemed “unkempt” or “extreme” — which tends to disproportionately affect Black employees and students. PBS NewsHour communities correspondent Gabrielle Hays reported that Missouri is one of 27 states that have yet to pass the CROWN Act that would ban Black hair discrimination. CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

Attempts to ban hair discrimination on the federal level have repeatedly failed.

“We’re not just talking about the experience of how we show up in workplaces [with natural hair], but when it starts when we enter the classroom,” Hays noted. “People touching your hair, commenting on your hair, or us changing our hair in hopes that those things won’t happen to us — maybe to be a little more palatable to the people around us.”

Hays said that the passing of the CROWN Act in piecemeal and unclear, vague language in employer or school dress codes can lead to further confusion. “They, in a way, leave the door open for there to be discrimination toward people of color, towards Black people. And so we have to think about what that language is, what it means and the real life effects that it has on human beings.”

For more about Black hair discrimination including Leslie Hughes’ and Gabrielle Hays’ personal experiences with hair discrimination, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.

Missouri has yet to pass the CROWN Act. What’s at stake?

Related Event
What: Frizz Fest
When: Sept. 16
Where: Tower Grove Park, St. Louis

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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