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CROWN Act passes Michigan Senate

Democratic state Senators Erika Geiss, Sarah Anthony, and Sylvia Santana speak to reporters after the Senate passed the CROWN Act Tuesday.
Colin Jackson
Michigan Public Radio Network
Democratic state Senators Erika Geiss, Sarah Anthony, and Sylvia Santana speak to reporters after the Senate passed the CROWN Act Tuesday.

Michigan’s ban against racial discrimination would extend to “traits historically associated with race” under a bill that passed the Michigan Senate Tuesday.

The bill is known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN, Act. It specifies those traits would include natural hair texture and related styles like braids, locs, and twists.

Senator Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) sponsored the legislation. She calls stories of hair-based discrimination she’s heard “heartbreaking.”

“A young girl in Mt. Pleasant whose hair was cut by school personnel, a young woman in Jackson, a child, elementary school who was told she could not take her school pictures because of her braids, a man in mid-Michigan who was denied health care coverage,” Anthony listed off to reporters after Senate session Tuesday.

The bill passed the chamber 33-5, with several Republicans crossing sides vote in favor of the bill.

Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) was among those who voted no. He said he worries the language of the bill is too broad.

“It says race ‘is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to’ — what does that mean? Not limited to? It means anything else,” he said during a floor speech.

Runestad said that could give the government license to take enforcement of the bill too far. He said he would have preferred a narrower version of the bill, fearing unintended consequences.

Supporters of the bill, however, argued the legislation is necessary to fight back against racism and racist taboos associated with Black hair, in particular.

Anthony noted times seem to be changing culturally, and said she's seeing more people recently sporting their natural hair. She said she hopes her bill can keep people from missing out professionally because of their hair.

“The workplace needs to expand, right? I think in the governor’s State of the State, she said, you know, bigotry is bad for business and so when we are looking to attract talent from all over the country, all over the globe, we need to make sure that we’re being as inclusive as we possibly can be,” Anthony said.

In other moments with reporters, however, whether that legislative inclusivity had fully trickled down seemed in question.

Anthony spoke alongside the Senate’s only other Black lawmakers, Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit).

The trio shared stories of threats of death and sexual violence they had received since joining the Legislature. But also, of finding comfort showing up as their authentic selves.

“I think that’s really important to not only having true representation not only in the Senate but also making sure that we’re representing the constituents across Michigan,” Santana said.

The lawmakers say they hope the bill can help others be themselves too.

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