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A legal battle in Texas over a Black student’s hairstyle has renewed calls for a national CROWN Act. Here is what that means

The family of a Black high school student who has been suspended for weeks over his locs hairstyle have sued Texas state leaders, requesting the governor take action to protect the 17-year-old from hair discrimination.

Black natural hair advocates say the legal battle has renewed focus on the history of hair discrimination in the US and the need to pass a national CROWN Act.

The CROWN Act and similar laws protect against race-based hair discrimination by making it illegal to deny employment and educational opportunities based on natural hair texture and protective hairstyles.

The legislation, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” (CROWN) has been championed by natural hair advocates who argue Black Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace and in schools because of their hair.

Although the language of each law differs across the states that draft them, CROWN Act laws generally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or culture, including Black hairstyles like locs, braids or Bantu knots.

These styles are known as “protective hairstyles” because they help maintain the health of the hair by tucking strands to prevent additional stress and breakage, which promotes hair to grow. The styles also protect the hair from the overuse of heat from styling tools such as flat irons.

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It’s not about hair

“The “it’s just hair” mantra also perplexes Courtney McKinney, communications director for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “For so long in this country black people have been told that how we exist naturally and care for ourselves in order to work or to get an education or to just be is unacceptable. And the psychological damage from that is so profound and so beyond just hair,” she says.”

It’s not about hair