The CROWN Act: How a Texas teen ended up on Oscar’s red carpet


The spotlight was placed on a piece of little-known legislation in recent weeks having to do with how an employee or student wears his or her hair. The CROWN Act uses the acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. So far, the issue has been a focus due to hairstyles made of dreadlocks.

From the website: “The CROWN Act ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes.” Dove (the soapmaker, not the chocolate company) is a woke corporation now and it is a corporate partner of the movement. I was only vaguely aware of this push for legislation. I read about actress Gabrielle Union being fired from her gig on America’s Got Talent and at the time Gabrielle cited cultural insensitivity and sexism as a reason for the action. One of the problems the show executives had with her, apparently, was how she wore her hair. She stirred up a lot of publicity and moved the issue of people of color wearing their hair in a natural way to the forefront.

The CROWN Act is law in California, New York, New Jersey, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the City of Cincinnati. The website lists twenty-two states who are in the process of moving the legislation into their political agenda, too. The point being, this is catching on.

Twenty-two (22) additional states are considering the CROWN Act and have either pre-filed, filed or formally stated an intent to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills, including Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The State of Texas is not on that list. The reason I know more about the CROWN Act now is because of the case of Texas teenager DeAndre Arnold. DeAndre was a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas. Mont Belvieu is about 30 miles from Houston and the story made local news coverage in Houston when DeAndre was suspended from school for violating the school’s dress code policy on the length of his hair. He was also told he would not be able to walk in the school’s graduation ceremony if he didn’t cut his hair. To be clear – it was over the length of his hair, his dreadlocks, not the dreadlocks themselves. When his story made its way to people outside the area, like celebrities, he became an instant celebrity himself. Ellen DeGeneres was an early supporter in Hollywood. He has changed schools.

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A documentary about the CROWN Act titled Hair Love was nominated for an Oscar. Gabrielle Union is a co-producer of the documentary. She, her husband Dwayne Wade, and Hair Love‘s writer and co-director Matthew A. Cherry invited him and his mother to be their guests at the Oscars Sunday night. DeAndre walked the red carpet before the Oscars ceremony in style, thanks to Dove’s corporate sponsorship. Dove covered wardrobe and other expenses for both DeAndre and his mom.

“Deandre already changed schools, but I hope that we are able to help give him the platform that him & his story deserves. We’re so proud & cannot wait to meet him,” Cherry said.

Cherry then tweeted a video in which he, Union and Wade personally addressed Arnold. In it, Union discussed how she and Wade originally became involved in the film: “When we heard about this amazing story of a young black father with long, beautiful locks just trying to figure out how to do his daughter’s hair, we knew that we had to support any way we could.”

DeAndre isn’t the first high school kid to be told to conform with his school’s dress code. In January a male student in California was suspended for the same thing. His school walked back the discipline and now the CROWN Act is law in California. DeAndre’s Texas school didn’t back down, though. That’s why he switched schools.

A reporter for Houston’s ABC affiliate traveled along to L.A. for the story. DeAndre’s excuse all along has been that his hair length is a cultural decision – a tribute to his father’s Trinidad roots. He has been growing his hair since seventh grade. His mother blames the local school board’s lack of diversity – in other words, racism. Ms. Arnold said so on CBS.

His mother, Sandy Arnold, told the news station that after Christmas break and three months before graduation, the school district changed the dress code policy.

“They say that even (when) my hair is up if it were to be down it would be not in compliance with the dress code. However, I don’t take it down in the school,” Arnold said.

Sandy told CBS This Morning that she believes the lack of diversity in the district is the issue. “There is no people of color on the school board. I get it that they don’t understand his hair,” she said.

DeAndre’s hair length violates the school policy, as written in the student handbook. The school superintendent says the policy has been in place for thirty years. The Arnold family surely knew that when DeAndre began growing out his dreadlocks in the seventh grade. I would guess that the school has been unsuccessful in getting DeAndre to comply for some time now, so when it became closer to graduation, they had to take a stronger stand. How could he walk in a graduation ceremony with his long dreadlocks when the other kids abided by the dress code? Like I said, just a guess.

The school district’s student handbook says that “male students’ hair must not extend below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows, or below the earlobes when let down.

Texas will likely join the list of states passing the CROWN Act. Black lawmakers and officials held a press conference last Thursday in support of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus working on a bill. A bill is expected to be introduced for the 2021 Texas legislative session.

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