Texas hairstylist reacts to Austin passing CROWN Act

Shenneka Peterson is a hairstylist. She loves what she does, and she loves changing her own hairstyle from time to time.

"I do anything from braids, passion twists, regular twists, anything that is a protective style, all-natural hair. I have relaxed clients as well," said Peterson.

She also has worked in corporate America, and in years past in previous jobs, she has doubted whether she can be her true self in the workplace.

"I’m one of those that before my interview, used to change my hair to make it more presentable to be able to get the job. That is how the corporate world has been since I’ve been in it. It's never been a place to embrace your crown," she said.

Peterson was delighted to hear that the City of Austin is now the first in Texas to pass the CROWN Act. CROWN stands for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair."

"It will allow people to not be discriminated against if they want to wear their hair the way it naturally grows out of their heads, and if they want to wear braids or dreads or Bantu knots, and afros," said Carol Johnson, director of the office of civil rights in Austin.

The act means amending City Code to revise the definition of "Discriminatory Employment Practice" to include protective hairstyles. 

This means a hairstyle necessitated by, or resulting from, the characteristics of a hair texture or hairstyle commonly associated with race, national origin, ethnicity, or culture, and includes but is not limited to afros, bantu knots, braids, cornrows, curls, locs, twists, or hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled, says the city.

The ordinance protects people in the workplace, in housing and in public spaces. Johnson believes it shouldn’t have taken legislation to get us here.

"There are so many cultural negative stereotypes associated with cultural hairstyles. We cannot force people to change to Eurocentric standards of beauty. We need to allow people to be who they are," said Johnson.

Nelson Linder with the Austin NAACP deals with employment discrimination cases on a regular basis. He is hoping this law can go federal.

"I wish the EEOC will intervene as well and make this a national standard," said Linder.

As for Peterson, she is hopeful and believes there is a good chance her young daughter can grow up in a more accepting America.

"A world where she is not judged by the color of her skin or her crown, a world that she can be herself," said Peterson.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act earlier in 2022. It is now up for a vote in the U.S. Senate.