Pass The CROWN: Why This Exec Is On A Mission To End Black Hair Discrimination

"I see this as an opportunity to redefine what society declares is professional, because who we are is professional."


OK, so, boom. In 2005, India Arie and Akon linked up to create a new negro national anthem that firmly reminded America that Black people cannot be defined by their hair and fifteen years later, it is abundantly clear that Karen and Chad never got the memo.

I'll never forget when I was 16-years-old, attending a Catholic school in Augusta, Georgia, when a teacher told me that my twists were too "ethnic" and that straighter hair made me look more "ladylike" in front of another group of students. I felt angry, hurt, and embarrassed by his not-so-micro-microaggression and had no means of retaliation or recourse. If you or someone you love is also Black AF, I'm sure that they, too, have had an experience like mine and it is for this reason that Dove and The CROWN Coalition have linked up to put an end to hair discrimination for good.

Unilever's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of North American Beauty and Personal Care, Esi Eggleston Bracey, told xoNecole:

"We know as black women, we wear our hair in many ways that are expressions of us. So we define our own professionalism. Our braids, my twists, my locs, my Afro, when I've worn [those styles], those have all been professional because I've worn those in professional settings."

Courtesy of Esi Eggleston Bracey

One year ago today, the CROWN (which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act was signed into legislation in California, making race-related hair discrimination illegal and triggered a domino effect that has since led seven states to follow suit. The law, initially introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell last January, has now been introduced as a federal bill that has the support of more than 70,000 petitioners nationwide and according to The CROWN Coalition, this is only the beginning. As of today, July 3, is officially National CROWN Day.

xoNecole recently chatted with Esi to talk more about how laws like The CROWN Act can be life-changing to the professional narrative Black men and women experience nationwide and, honey, it was a word.

Here's what she had to say.

*Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Here at xoNecole, we are owned by a Black woman. We are an office of Black women and hair discrimination is not a thing here. And discrimination is not tolerated at all. If there is someone who feels that they have had a discriminatory experience, what should they do to take action?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: Help us make The CROWN Act law in all 50 states so that we can all be protected because right now we only have that protection in seven states. So the answer for the recourse depends on if there's legislation passed in the state. To get it passed in your state, please go to TheCROWNAct.com and sign the petition. You can also go to TheCROWNAct.com and find out who your local officials are so that you can petition them for The Crown Act in the state. If The Crown Act is in your state, which is what we're celebrating, you have the same recourse.

You have legal action and recourse for the discrimination, the same way you would for gender or for race or other things that are protected based on civil rights legislation and the FEHA legislation. You have legal rights if you feel that there's discrimination.

When you say, what can someone do if they feel that they've been discriminated [against]? The first thing I say is, have a conversation, and say my hair is an extension of me. And in that, [say] I believe it's completely appropriate for me to wear my hair X, Y, and Z, and see where that conversation goes. If through that conversation, you're still denied employment or access to school, and you are in a CROWN Act municipality or state, then you have the right to take action.

There's a lot of intense discussions happening right now, as we know, about meaningful systemic reform versus symbolic pacifiers if you will, can you share specific ways the passing of the CROWN act legislation has directly impacted hair discrimination or the end of hair discrimination and the creation of more equitable and inclusive beauty experiences for black women and girls?

I think The CROWN Act and the work of Dove and the CROWN Coalition and championing the legislation is exactly the action that you're talking about. In our community, as we appreciate people still saying, 'I stand with the black community' [and] 'I support #BlackLivesMatter', [we] want people to go beyond just standing with us, but actually helping us change the world and changing society because we've been oppressed for centuries. It's been 401 years since slavery. And it's only been 56 years that we have been legally desegregated. So we know we have a long road to go to make meaningful change.

I believe legislation can be that meaningful change. That legislation changes lives and The CROWN Act is an example of legislative change that makes hair discrimination, not legal. And hair discrimination is a type of discrimination.

In fact, why we've been able to get it passed is because it's recognized that hair is actually a characteristic of race that is already protected. And so what The CROWN act does is supplement that and make it clear that race is a protected class and things like The Emancipation Proclamation, which is an executive order. If we think about the 13th Amendment, if we think about The Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act -- all those made meaningful changes to where we are today. The CROWN Act is an example of that. It's great to take a stance, it's even better to drive systemic change. The CROWN Act is one, but there's so many other areas that we can use our voice and our influence to drive that systemic change.

You have a daughter. What conversations have you had with her or things you've done with her to help her embrace her natural beauty?

My daughter, Anura, is one of my pride and joys because I have two, my son Benoit, and there are conversations needed with the boys and the girls. She rocks her beautiful natural hair. She wears a big, let's call it an afro puff bun. And she's proud of it. And your question is what have I done? I think it's the same as many mothers do. One is, lead by example, which is be true to who I am regardless of the organizations that I'm in.

I run a $5 billion business and I work for Unilever. I have 24 brands. I've been in corporate America for nearly 30 years. When I came into corporate America, I did feel the pressure to conform. I wore a bob and a perm and straight-up little glasses, and I wanted to fit in and blend in. And then I realized that by doing that, I was perpetuating for all what that standard was. So I challenged myself to break out of that.

I cut off my perm, wore a really short afro, changed a lot to just reflect who I was in the workplace. That is what I try to show and have conversations with my daughter about. I encourage her to go past her comfort zone and be comfortable in sharing who she is, but she's on her own journey. So, I try to lead by example and try to stretch her beyond her comfort zone and then have her see that it's not just about her, it's about other people. So, when she steps out of her comfort zone, she creates a space for others to do the same.

Courtesy of WWD

Have you yourself ever experienced hair discrimination in the workplace? And if so, how did that make you feel?

That's a hard question to answer. I have not experienced a kind of discrimination that asked me to be sent home from school or had me rejected officially from a job. But we all experience what I would call is more the covert discrimination: perceptions.

As a leader, as an executive, I've had many people not assume I was an executive. They might assume I was the intern or assume that I was working to support executives. And I've seen that and it's hard to unpack. Is it because of hair? Is it because of race? Is it because of youth? Is it because of gender?

I'd say probably all of the above because it's happened many times. So, in that, I just smile when someone makes a comment and I might say something like, 'you know, I lead this business, right?' And take what I call a power stance. I've not had to legislate for myself, but I have advocated for myself.

We're currently talking about freedom quite a bit. It’s a major topic of discussion and many things for people in the black community freedom and the black community. What does being free mean to you?

Free to me means free to be. You know, how we all have mantras [and] different things that we say? One of the things I say is free to be me. That's the foundation of freedom -- freedom to be who you are now. What does that mean in the world? That's freedom to be safe. That's freedom to be respected. That's free to contribute. That's free to bring to life the impact that we inherently know that we can make.

To learn more about The CROWN Act, visit their website. Click here to sign The CROWN Act petition and help make hair discrimination illegal.

Featured image courtesy of Esi Eggleston Bracey.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.

This is Maya's story, written by Charmin Michelle.

I know this may come to a surprise so many, but here we are. Yes, I got a BBL. If you aren't aware, a BBL is a Brazilian Butt Lift, a cosmetic surgery process where the doctor uses a combination of liposuction and fat-grafting, transfers the fat into the butt, resulting in added volume, defined curves, and a lift. It is technically lipo and a fat transfer. But yeah girl, this has been on my to-do list for a while. And now that I am able to afford it, I went for it.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Adulting is hard but packing up and moving from one living space to the next is even harder. As a young adult, leaving home to attend college 300 miles away, I was yearning for a change of scenery so much so I couldn't wait to pack my belongings and head to sunny southern California. With each transition, it wasn't an easy task, however, nine years and 10 roommates later, I finally have a place to call my own. As liberating as it is to be in a space that's all mine, this move is unlike any other. As a single woman, the responsibility of uprooting myself has been more challenging than I ever imagined. More than just saving dreamy home decor inspiration via Pinterest, making "my house a home" has been a process that's easier said than done.

Keep reading... Show less

Earlier today, I was talking to one of my closest male friends about some closure that he got with a particular woman in his life. She was someone he had met online and, although they were digging each other, she actually liked him more than he liked her. "Liked" in the sense that she wanted to move forward with the potential of it turning into something more serious and lasting, while my friend was fine leaving things casual. When he told me that she called him to let him know that she had met someone else who was on the same page with her and so she thought it would be best that she and my friend cool things off out of respect for what she was building with someone else, I appreciated my friend's response. He said, "Man, that made me respect her so much because a lot of women play games out here. She was direct, it was a 'clean close' and that makes me open to always staying in touch, no matter what."

Keep reading... Show less

If there's one thing Historically Black Universities are known, it's fostering a sense of interconnectedness for collaborative genius to thrive. Of all campuses, it was on the soil of The Mecca, Howard University, where She'Neil Johnson-Spencer and Nicolette Graves rooted their friendship and aligned their passion for beauty and natural brains. Today, the two have founded a skincare brand of their own, Base Butter, that has not only carved out their niche space in the market but rallied a community of women to glow from the inside out.

Keep reading... Show less

While I'm pretty sure that all of us get the gist of what body language is, if you're looking for a way to easily define it, it's when you use your mannerisms and expressions (including one's tone) to communicate with other people. Although it's been said for many years that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, more studies are revealing that it is somewhere around 60-70 percent. Either way, what we do know for sure is, when it comes to how people respond and react to how you engage them, your body language plays a really significant role.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive: Find Confidence With This Summer Workout Created By A Black Woman For Black Women

Tone & Sculpt trainer Danyele Wilson makes fitness goals attainable.

Latest Posts