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New Tennessee law prohibits race-based hair discrimination

Tennessee is one of 17 states to pass the CROWN Act, which protects the right of Black people to wear their hair how they want in the workplace.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A new law in Tennessee prevents employers from discriminating against someone's ethnic hairstyle.

Tennessee is among the latest states to pass the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. Some people in Knoxville say the change is long overdue.

Vivian Hartsell has owned her salon, Shear Elegance Hair Design Studio, for more than 25 years. She has worked with all sorts of customers, but primarily with Black women. For the past 20 years, she has heard stories of how her customers cannot wear their hair how they want to.

"I have had quite a few customers who say that their job will not allow them certain hairstyles they consider to not be professional," she said. "It really makes me sad because you should be able to express yourself — if you want braids or if you want color. It is in the eyes of the beholder who thinks it is professional or who thinks it is not professional."

Hartsell told 10News that she is excited the CROWN Act will allow people to wear their hair proudly without fear of retaliation from their employers.

"Our hair kind of gives us an expression of who we are and how we carry ourselves," she said. "So I think it is very important how we accept each other's hair."

Revered Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, called the move "a step in the right direction."

"We are literally addressing every area of systemic racism," she said. "And we are saying we will not tolerate that anymore."

She said people should not disregard hair as something "superficial," but as a way for many people of color to honor their culture and heritage.

"There was a sense of pride in there — there was a sense of importance to who we are as a people," she said. "And I think to make it superficial is then to minimize its importance and also to minimize what has been used as a weapon against Black people."

Kesler said she hopes this new law also impacts local schools. She added she would love to see students now be able to wear their natural hair without fear of being bullied.

California was the first state to enact the CROWN Act into law in 2019. Tennessee was the first state in the South to do so.

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