Last week the Masschausetts Senate unanimously passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. The bill prohibits discrimination, which largely impacts Black residents, based on natural and protective hairstyles in places of work and school-related organizations.
Prior to Senate’s passage of the legislation, Sen. Lydia Edwards rose to speak on the bill and delivered her maiden address.
“When I think about this particular law, I’m in a unique position to not only pass a law but to be one of the primary subjects of the beneficiaries of that law,” Edwards began. “To stand here with my colleagues, who I know will stand with me in solidarity and vote for this law, we’re looking at the result of natural hair, you’re looking at the results of the work that you were about to do. We have what I believe is the first African American senator with beautiful long dreadlocks. This is natural hair. It took me so long, so long to ever say that my hair is long. That it is beautiful. That it is natural. What you’re voting on today is not just prohibiting harm. It is a statement that black women have needed to hear for so long, “Who you are and how you present yourself in this world is beautiful, is necessary, is political, is powerful and we will not demand that you be anything less than that anymore.”
Edwards said in the state, in the country and in schools across the nation we have failed to do that.
“I’m embarrassed to say how much money I’ve spent doing everything I could to put in fake hair and hair chemicals to cover up what naturally grew out of my head,” said Edwards. “You must understand what systemic racism does is not just prohibit economic opportunity and prohibit access to housing–it diminishes the soul, it diminishes yourself and who you are, because there’s something you cannot control.”
Edwards said for so many years she was taught that her natural hair was “unprofessional” or “unsightly” or “nappy” or “disgusting”.
“But today’s celebration of our hair,” said Edwards. “Now, my friends and my colleagues are saying, “The systemic ways in which we have attacked people of color, one of which is through their hair, will end”. I don’t even know how to explain the amount of painful years I went through. Whether it was a hot comb and getting burned trying to straighten my hair. Whether it was losing hair because of braids that were so tight. Spending hundreds of dollars on weaves all of which to cover up who I am but could be seen as more professional. “
Edwards continued, “This is a health care issue. An economic issue. This is an issue of dealing with internalized self hatred of which I had and unfortunately many black women (have).”
Edwards said when she finally cut her hair and started to grow it out more naturally emerged more self confident.
“I said I will be myself and nobody else,” she said. “And if my hair grows out this way, and if it is kinky or curly, then it shall be the most beautiful hair that grows because I grew it.”
Edwards said the bill proves she and her colleagues are part of the right movement and on the right side of history.
“This is personal for me because you are doing something for the Commonwealth and for the future,” Edwards told her colleagues. “This (bill) is for future economic opportunities, for self worth, for the ability for black women to be empowered. We are sending a message to be unafraid to be your beautiful black self.”