For centuries, hair has been a personal style statement and a way for folks to connect to their heritage and culture. In recent years, it has also been politicized and something that has been regulated in America and around the world, mainly in relation to Black people and their hair. It has been used as another way of controlling Black bodies and expressions of Black culture.
As far back as the late 1700s in Louisiana, Black women (including both free and enslaved women) were forced to wear a tignon – a scarf or handkerchief – over their hair. These Tignon Laws were enacted to maintain the status quo and control their bodies and personal expressions. It also helped cement white supremacy in the culture.
Even in recent years, discrimination against Black hair has continued across the country, including right here in Illinois. In fact, a four-year-old boy – Jett Hawkins – helped spark a new law and conversation when it comes to regulating Black hair in Illinois and in America. Told by his school that his braided hair broke the dress code, Jett’s mother, Ida Nelson, immediately took action. She joined forces with Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons and worked to enact the Jett Hawkins Law. The new law “prevents school boards, local school councils, charter schools, and non-public elementary and secondary schools from creating hairstyle-based dress code requirements. Specifically, the Public Act prohibits discriminating against hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture, including, but not limited to, protective hairstyles such as braids, locs, and twists.”
In 2022, Illinois took another step toward banning hair discrimination when it joined 16 other states and enacted the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN Act. The law prohibits race-based hair discrimination, like the denial of employment and education opportunities because of a person’s hair texture or style—which commonly comes in braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots. Upon signing the law, Gov. JB Pritzker noted that, “Hair isn’t just deeply personal—it’s inherently cultural, passing down thousands of years of history from generation to generation. Hair discrimination isn’t just a microaggression—it’s racist. And it’s past time we prohibit it.”
Jett Hawkins Law in the Media
6 Kids Speak Out Against Hair Discrimination, New York Times, April 22, 2022
Why are black Americans being punished for their hair?, BBC, February 23, 2022
Chicago mother speaks out after African American hair discrimination bill named after son passes, ABC7, February 17, 2022
Gov. Pritzker signs bill preventing hair discrimination in schools, Fox32, August 13, 2021
This Family Fought A West Side School’s Ban On Black Hairstyles — And Now Illinois Could Ban Hair Discrimination, Block Club Chicago, May 17, 2021