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Waveney Ann Moore: A crowning glory with rights 

Waveney Ann Moore

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From left, the Burney sisters Lorena, 13, Gabriella, 9 and Brianna, 11, pose at Shear Essence Hair Salon in St. Petersburg after getting their hair done. Brianna chose braids. Photo by Trena Burney.

African-American beauty salons in St. Petersburg were busy in recent days, as Black girls from kindergarten to high school and college prepared to head to classes in hairstyles from braids to blowouts. 

At Shear Essence Hair Salon on 22nd Avenue S., owner Donna Bean and stylist Mitzi Hall were caught up in the whirlwind. 

“The last couple of weeks were really busy for us, and each child had virgin hair, meaning it never had been processed with any chemicals,” said Hall. “I did do quite a few braids. It’s a long process. The norm for young children is four to six hours with extensions.” 

But the time is worth it, said Hall, whom I’ve known for many years and who styled my hair until the pandemic forced me to forgo my visits. 

She went on to tell the story of one young girl, Brianna Burney, 11, who said she was excited to have her braids in time for the beginning of school. The braids were a first for her. 

Brianna’s sisters, Lorena, 13, and Gabriella, 9, got blowouts. 

Whatever their choice for their hair, their mom, Trena Burney, wants them to grow up happy and confident. 

“I try my best to instill good qualities into my children, from the moment they entered the world,” said Burney, a medical assistant. “I’ve always told them, love you and everything about your culture and the meaning of where you came from as little African-American girls.” 

For Black females, our hair can evoke both pride and angst. Go natural? Perhaps embrace flowing, colorful extensions? Maybe braids wrapped in a head-hugging style, or swept into a sophisticated updo?  

It’s fascinating to watch as Black hairstyles evolve. And to see states pass laws to ban discrimination based on the natural hair and hairstyles of Black people.  

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on hair texture and protective styles, including locs, cornrows, twists, braids and Bantu knots. 

National Urban League president and CEO Marc H. Morial hailed the passage. “Policies that ban textured hair in its natural state, or in protective styles that are essential for healthy hair maintenance, inflict immeasurable economic and psychic harm, especially on people of African or Latin descent,” he said then. “It’s long past time that we as a nation recognize and rectify the injustice of these policies.” 

Sen. Cory Booker has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate. 

These protective, confidence-boosting measures are being pushed by the CROWN Coalition, a national alliance founded by Dove, the National Urban League, the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the Color Of Change. 

The coalition is behind the CROWN Act, which is about “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The CROWN Act, which is what the House of Representatives passed in March, is meant to eliminate race-based hair discrimination at work and in schools.  

Some may wonder why there’s a need for laws addressing Black hair. So far, 18 states have them. The fact is, Black people have faced discrimination and denigration because of their natural hair, which many traditionally subjected to hot combs and chemical relaxers from a very young age in a bid to conform to perceived beauty standards. 

In recent years, there have been reports of children being admonished or sent home from school because of Afrocentric hairstyles. Such attitudes also exist in the workplace. A professional woman I know observed that she’s treated differently when she wears braids.  

And recently, I was told by someone close to me that TSA patted down her beautifully braided hair that had been expertly styled at a braiding salon in the Pinellas Point neighborhood. The intrusion happened as she was preparing to fly back home to St. Petersburg from upstate New York. What could they think was in her modest braids? Infuriatingly, this is not an unusual story. I wonder, does TSA touch or rifle through the hair of people who have naturally straight hair?     

Research bears out the biases around natural Black hair. A CROWN study conducted in 2019 to determine “the magnitude of racial discrimination experienced by women in the workplace based on their natural hairstyles” found that Black women’s hair is more than three times “likely to be perceived as unprofessional.” 

The more recent 2021 Dove CROWN Research Study for Girls concluded that race-based hair discrimination is “pervasive and negatively impactful.” 

It found, as well, that though Black girls “have high levels of self-identity and confidence around their hair, with 90 percent of Black girls stating that their hair is beautiful, school environments often affect Black girls’ view of themselves.” 

Discrimination around Black hair, the study said, “is most prevalent in majority-white schools.” 

But there’s reason to be optimistic that discrimination might ease. In July, in time for the new school year, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed the CROWN Act into law. California, unsurprisingly, was the first state to pass such legislation in 2019. New York followed shortly after.  

Florida is somewhat behind. The Broward County Commission, however, passed CROWN Act legislation in 2020. 

I understand that some people might think it unnecessary, even outlandish, to pass laws against hair discrimination. But I suspect that many of those same people are the ones who tut-tut natural Black hair and hairstyles and have no problem making negative assumptions about the wearer.  

Black people should be able to choose whether they want to straighten their hair or wear it in its natural state and maybe decorate it with beads, weave in colorful strands, attach synthetic hair extensions or anything else that suits their fancy.  

Unfortunately, in this present climate, the right to such basic privileges must be codified. 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Trena Burney

    August 12, 2022at4:49 pm

    To all the Halo’s out there stand proud and confident knowing you are a African American Black girl you rock and remember love yourselves unconditionally from a proud mom Mrs. Burney

  2. Avatar

    Kathryn Rawson

    August 13, 2022at7:34 pm

    Thank you for a very interesting and educational article, Waveney Ann. Never would have thought it would raise such a brouhaha but I am sure you are right. I love checking out the different fashions / hairstyles chosen by different people, both black and white.

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