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‘This is who I am’: Texas law banning race-based hair discrimination goes into effect Friday

Aliyah Hale talking to La Toya Gadson while braiding her hair at Sola Salon Studios on Aug. 23, 2023.
Patricia Lim
Aliyah Hale talks to La Toya Gadson while braiding her hair at Braided by Liyah at Sola Salon Studios on Aug. 23. The CROWN Act, set to go into effect on Sept. 1, prohibits employers, labor unions, and employment agencies from discriminating against any employee "on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyle associated with race."

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La Toya Gadson is going to Puerto Rico on vacation.

But first, before she leaves, she has an appointment at Braided by Liyah, a hair salon nestled in an Austin mall.

As the name suggests, the salon is owned by Aliyah Hale, who specializes in braids.

“To be able to come, sit, relax, have a great conversation, and to have this unique hairstyle … it just makes me feel confident. And pretty!” Gadson said while sitting in Hale’s chair on a recent afternoon.

The stylist finds her work extremely gratifying.

“For me, it’s providing ease to Black women in particular. Because, for us, I feel like everything is hard,” said Hale. “It’s a time saver, it’s convenient, it makes people feel more confident and beautiful.”

On this hot afternoon, Hale methodically twists Gadson’s hair into Fulani braids. The style, which she describes as a combination of box braids in the back and cornrow braids in the front, takes about four hours to complete.

Gadson is excited. But she didn’t always feel comfortable with her hair.

"I started rocking my natural hair in 2018. That’s when I started transitioning from relaxers, getting it straight,” Gadson said. Before, she’d worry “Oh now, I can’t have curly hair! 'Cause what someone might think about it.”

Concerns like this aren’t uncommon. According to a recent survey commissioned by LinkedIn and Dove, 66% of Black women surveyed changed their hair for a job interview to avoid discrimination. Twenty-five percent believed their hairstyle cost them a job interview.

Aliyah Hale talks to La Toya Gadson while braiding her hair at Braided by Liyah at Sola Salon Studios on Aug. 23, 2023.
Patricia Lim
Aliyah Hale talks to La Toya Gadson while braiding her hair at Braided by Liyah at Sola Salon Studios.

Pushing for hair protections

The CROWN Act, short for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, is designed to protect Gadson and others from race-based hair discrimination.

State Rep. Rhetta Andrews Bowers, D-Rowlett, authored the measure and believes it will make a positive difference for many.

“It would impact men, women, and children … whether it was in the classroom and children were being kept from instruction because of their hair and looked at as a distraction — because of the style they are wearing their hair in — or people on a job being held [back] from promotion because they are choosing to wear their hair in braids,” Bowers said.

The law is set to go into effect in Texas on Friday.

Bowers spent years fighting to pass the law. The 2023 legislative session was the third time she filed the measure.

To gain support among lawmakers, Bowers said she had to educate her colleagues about microaggressions based on hair. She also shared her experience — and that of other Black and brown people — with them.

That education even happened on the House floor, like one recent interaction with a colleague.

“He’s asking me, ‘Can I touch your hair?’ and I’m thinking, ‘That is really not going to be a good thing to do because we are right here, you do not want to touch my hair,’” Bowers recalled. “And he laughed and that was the other thing — some of it, to some people, was a joke, and I had to make them understand that it was about more than hair, that it was about acceptance, really.”

Ultimately, the Texas Legislature passed the CROWN Act in May with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Gadson is happy it passed.

“I think it’s crazy because of course it’s hair that we were born with, right? And the norm is having straight hair,” Gadson said. “And now, it’s embracing … this is who I am."

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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