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America’s beauty queens are all black. So why do we still need natural hair laws? | Elizabeth Wellington

Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA are all black women. But are #BlackGirlsWinning in the beauty realm when laws are being placed on the books that forbid natural hair styles in work places?

Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris and Miss America Nia Franklin
Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris and Miss America Nia FranklinRead moreCBS This Morning / Screenshot

When reigning Miss USA Cheslie Kryst and Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris were crowned last week, they made all kinds of #BlackGirlMagic history as they joined Miss America Nia Franklin in the role of the country’s most supreme beauty queens.

After centuries of seemingly endless horse manure about why black women — especially the darker-hued among us — aren’t as beautiful as white ladies, this validation is undeniable. At this moment in time, black women have been deemed the most beautiful — and elegant — women in the country.

I can get with that.

My surge of excitement, followed by a burst of good, old-fashioned we-have-overcome pride, was short-lived. Try as I might, I was torn.

On one hand, I wanted to celebrate these gorgeous women’s achievements and bask in the glow of being one step closer to our elusive racially equitable society that is most certainly on the horizon. Right?

But I couldn’t help but think that while we were reveling in this achievement, black women (and men) are still defending our beauty choices.

It’s to the point that last month, Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Holly J. Mitchell was compelled to introduce a bill in the California state legislature that bans schools and workplaces from writing dress codes that forbid braids, twists, and other hairstyles that are suited to a black person’s natural hair. For years, Mitchell argued, black people have had to use untoward techniques and harmful chemicals to manipulate their hair into unnatural states that are acceptable to a Eurocentric beauty standard to not just fit into the status quo, but also to be considered clean and well-groomed.

The law, appropriately referred to as the C.R.O.W.N. law, an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair, passed the California State Senate and is now on its way to the State Assembly. Mitchell introduced it, she said, because she was weary of seeing black children and teenagers — like Buena Vista wrestler Andrew Johnson, whose locks were sheared at the behest of match referee Alan Maloney — humiliated "because their natural hair was deemed unruly or a distraction to others.

Speaking of locks, in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that it’s legal to refuse to hire a person with dreadlocks. This was after Catastrophe Management, a company in Mobile, Ala., rescinded a job offer to Chastity Jones because she wore the style. The company’s human resources manager reportedly told Jones her hair was unkempt.

So basically a style that lends itself to a healthy head of hair — I am living proof of that — is subject to discrimination because certain people say it can be unkempt. Are you kidding me? The amount of messy buns I see in the office...


I can hear the critics now: The regulars will call me an ingrate and racist race-baiter who should leave well enough alone. That’s the problem. In this politically correct world, you people are never happy. And then there are those who will call me a Debbie Downer. Why can’t we just enjoy the wins because we have so many losses?

Here is why it matters: For this first-ever black triumvirate in pageant history to be a real beauty win, all black women need to be able to sit comfortably in their natural beauty wherever they are — work, school, play, and on the pageant stage. That means we shouldn’t have to explain our curves. We shouldn’t feel some kind of way about our full lips or our broad noses. We need not be brown versions of the white ideal.

And I want to be clear, Kryst, Garris, and Franklin are exceptional women who clearly had to overcome many hurdles to arrive here. And they get to choose how they wear their hair — whether in natural curls or bodacious weaves.

A woman’s hair — her crown — is where personal freedom begins. Whether her hair is styled in a crazy, kinky Afro, an obedient trail of cornrows, the military precision of box braids, the defiant loops of anything-but-dreadful dreadlocks, her hair needs to be welcomed everywhere from the boardroom to the pageant stage.

A woman’s inner strength is tied, whether we like it or not, to how beautiful she sees herself. And for black women, it means even more because from the moment we walked on these shores, our hair was sheared or manipulated to be anything other than what it was meant to be.

Our hair doesn’t define our character, but there’s no denying that when a black woman believes she’s perfectly fine as she is, it opens her up to the belief that she can do anything from being a Supreme Court justice to writing code for the latest tech advancement to sweeping America’s top beauty pageants.