CROWN in the House

A national CROWN Act passed the House this week, passed on Friday. Its name has changed slightly, acknowledging that discrimination against kinky hair and Black hairstyles isn’t limited to the workplace. The new CROWN is an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”

I like the edit. It’s good to be clear about the fact that this discrimination doesn’t only happen at work. It was never only happening at work. All those stories about children being bullied and abused by their teachers, coaches, and schools make that clear. Bosses shouldn’t be able to discriminate against Black people’s hair, but neither should wrestling coaches, school principals, TSA agents …

And I need to correct my error from my last post about CROWN. I said the CROWN Act had passed in seven states and that a similar law had passed in an 8th state. That was mostly true. Illinois passed the Jett Hawkins Law, which banned discrimination against kinky hair in schools. But since the passing of Jett Hawkins, Illinois has gone on to pass the CROWN Act. In addition, I neglected to give the nod to four other states, states that added CROWN provisions to their existing anti-discrimination laws (or — in the case of Maryland — CROWN became law when Governor Hogan decided that any bill he hadn’t vetoed could just become law, and CROWN fell into that bucket with more than a dozen other bills). Twelve states. Twelve only. That’s better than seven or eight, but still a pretty small number. And this is exactly why we need a national law.

So CROWN has taken an important step forward. Obviously, passing the House doesn’t make a bill a law. We’ve all watched Schoolhouse Rock … and the process of our annoying af legislative branch. But it’s still great that CROWN passed the House.

It didn’t pass unanimously, which should surprise no one. Nearly 200 Representatives couldn’t see their way clear to saying that it isn’t okay to discriminate against people based on the kind of hair that grows naturally from their heads. Couldn’t see how it was a good idea to vote for a bill protecting people from being discriminated against for growing their hair naturally. One hundred eighty-nine of our elected Representatives care little enough about the rights and lives of Black people in this country that they were entirely comfortable making their disregard of Black people undeniably plain by not supporting this bill. That’s some serious comfort in their prejudice, comfort in their ability to flaunt their bias and not worry that they’ll face any consequences for it.

It’s 2022. It’s 2022, and it’s still not “just hair” when it comes to Black folks’ hair. And 189 nay votes for CROWN on Friday tells me how far we are from it ever being “just hair.”


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It’s “just hair” … unless it’s Black hair.

Hair is a forever-big-deal for Black women, whether we like it or not, whether we spend time focusing on it or not. When I made the decision to cut my hair off in 1988, hardly anyone I spoke to about my plan was in favor of it. People were super comfortable telling me what a mistake it would be, how terrible I would look. “You’ll look like a man,” I was told. “You don’t have the face for it.” “You won’t be able to comb your hair.” “What will people think of you?” “Everyone will think you’re a lesbian.” “Everyone will think you’re angry.” “Men don’t like short hair.”

Ugh. Just a full-on mess. These responses weren’t just to short hair but very specifically to short, nappy hair. I was choosing to cut off my relaxed hair and be kinky-headed on purpose, out in the world. And kinky hair was not popular. Certainly not society’s hair of choice for Black women.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. When I carried out my plan and cut my hair, people followed through on their ugliness. The older Black woman who worked reception at my night job stopped speaking to me. She literally never said a word to me for the rest of the time I worked there. A cab driver told me that, maybe if I got “fucked right,” I’d feel like a woman and start looking like one.

Yes. My short hair told that driver things he didn’t want to hear. Short hair told him I wasn’t interested in his gaze, in his male approval. And so he needed to threaten me with corrective rape to help me understand how unacceptable it was that I wasn’t presenting myself for his approval and consumption.

Because I had a short afro.

Whenever conversations come up about Black women’s hair, someone inevitably says, “But it’s just hair!”

It’s never been “just hair” for us. It if was “just hair,” enslaved women wouldn’t have been forced to hide their hair. It if was “just hair,” the US military wouldn’t have created (in twenty-fucking-fourteen) a set of guidelines for women’s hair that very explicitly outlawed hairstyles that were particular to Black women. It if was “just hair,” Black children wouldn’t have their hair hacked off by teachers, wouldn’t be expelled from school because of their hair growing in its natural form.

If it was “just hair,” we wouldn’t need the CROWN Act, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act. A whole fucking law to tell employers they can’t discriminate against Black people — and, very specifically Black women — because of their hair. Starting in California, CROWN has become law in seven states between 2018 and 2020. And the Jett Hawkins Law in Illinois is very like CROWN.

In my state, CROWN exists as law. If it had been a law a few jobs ago, I might have had some recourse when my boss told me I didn’t seem like the right candidate for a leadership role at our agency because my hair was “too street.”

Notice I mentioned seven states and an adjacent law in Illinois. The CROWN Act isn’t national. In September of 2020 and then in March of 2021, the CROWN Act was introduced in the House and Senate. It has yet to pass.

And lest we imagine this hate-fueled crap is focused solely on women, don’t forget Nivea’s disgustingly racist ad for men’s skincare products.

There is no “just” when it comes to Black people’s hair.

There is a seriously robust natural hair movement that’s at least ten years strong. It hasn’t spelled the end of prejudice against kinky hair, but it’s connected to the passing of the CROWN Act, connected to the army’s decision to change its offensive hairstyle ban. It’s also why I wasn’t worried about cutting my hair yesterday. I knew I didn’t have to worry about how people at my job would react, wouldn’t have to worry about not finding hair care products and tools for my little afro. There will still be some negative reactions, but many fewer than there were 34 years ago. So that’s a whole lot of steps in the right direction.

I’m focused on my own reaction to my newly-minted afro more than I am to anyone else’s. And that’s exactly as it should be. So, how am I reacting? With pleasure. I got up this morning and washed my hair — needed to get the mystery products from the barbershop out and use the products I know and love. And then I dove in with a twist so I could start reacquainting myself with how to care for and style my short hair. I took out the twist before a Zoom tonight, and I’m happy with the result.


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Big Chop Revelations

So. Yes. I’ve let someone cut off my hair. And yes. I’m frustrated by the result. And also yes. I can acknowledge that my hair looks fine. It even looks good. It just doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

First there was the disappointment of my temporary color not washing out, despite my use of a shampoo whose sole purpose is to fade this temporary color.

In truth, I should probably have known this wouldn’t work. My hair likes to play exactly this kind of trick on me. Years ago, when I first started using henna on my hair, my plan wasn’t to have red hair. I was going to use the henna and then follow it up with indigo, the combination of which was supposed to turn my hair black. Ha! As if. My hair took the henna enthusiastically … and then just smirked at me when I tried the indigo, laughed and said, “No chance, doll. Your sparkly grey is now sparkly red. Deal with it.” (My hair sometimes has a bad attitude.)

So maybe I should have guessed that my hair would hang onto the color I wanted it to release. I have plenty of grey, but it’s mostly at the roots, so I’ll have to wait a while for it to really show itself. (And isn’t that kind of for the best? I’ve been stressing about just how grey I’d be … and now I can ease into it gradually as my hair grows.)

My bigger disappointment is in the length. I wanted to leave the barbershop with six to eight inches of hair. That may not sound short, but kinky hair shrinks, and I have at least 50% shrinkage when my hair is left loose, so six to eight inches of hair would have coiled into itself and looked like three to four inches of hair.

Best laid plans and all that. I consulted with the barber. We talked through what I wanted. Talked it through three times. She was so clear about what I wanted. And then she cut my hair and left me with two to four inches.

Sigh.

Yes, my hair will grow. Of course. Still and all. Would it have been impossible for her to leave me the length I wanted?

Okay. But what is actually also true, is that I like this haircut. I mean, of course I like it: it’s the same cut I wore for years when I was younger. It’s the cut I’ve gotten nostalgic for when I’ve thought about cutting my hair.

I scheduled a dinner date with two dear friends for immediately after my trip to the barber. I did that because I didn’t want to rush home and hide if I didn’t like my hair, so I forced myself to have somewhere to go, to be out in public and let my hair be seen.

It was challenging at first, but then it was a hundred percent fine. I had a few moments of doing things that would have been necessary with my long hair only to be surprised to find my hair was gone. That was weird, and also funny, like when I was putting on my scarf at the end of the night and reached up to do that nape-of-the-neck sweep to get my hair out from under the scarf. Yeah. Not exactly necessary now.

When I first cut my hair back in 1988, I didn’t love it immediately. I was, in fact, extremely sad about it. I took one look in the mirror at the salon and deflated, felt I’d lost some essential part of myself. I dragged myself home to the apartment I shared with my sister. I walked in and she exclaimed over my hair, declaring that she was going to get hers cut immediately. (And she did. She still wears it short all these many years later.)

I appreciated my sister’s enthusiasm, but I wasn’t feeling my newly short hair. Not even a little. I woke up the next day … still unhappy. I woke up the next day … still unhappy. I woke up on my third full day of short hair … and I was in love.

I don’t think it will take three days for me to be happy about my hair. Because I’m not truly unhappy with it now. I’m unhappy that I didn’t get what I asked for, but my hair looks good. I’m super sleepy right now, but I’m looking forward to playing with it tomorrow, looking forward to remembering all the fun things I used to do with my hair forever-ago … and to diving into the world of YouTube tutorials and learning some new things.

So here, now, the great unveiling:

(Pretty sure that look on my face is more exhaustion than snarkiness, but I have room for both.)


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My Greening Thumb — Documentation

So last night I waxed rhapsodic about my plants … but I didn’t share any of the photos! (I seem to be on a roll with getting two slices out of one idea. Hmm …)

So, here’s the little basket my aglaonema and pothos came in. This picture is from my first month or so at my old job. I’d already had the basket of plants for a few years that that point. The peace lily was long gone, but the parlor palm was still doing its thing:

And I have this pic of a sun-burned leaf on my cyclamen:

And this of my aglaonema silver bay (that for years I thought was a dieffenbachia). It’s actually much bigger now!

Here’s my cyclamen with more flowers than it has ever put out at once … with a bonus shot of my orchid after it came back from burned air roots:

And here the spotlight’s just on the orchid:

Once, before all the destruction I rained down on its pretty head, it put up long stems with multiple blooms. The most extravagant it ever shared was seven flowers at once. So incredibly gorgeous. I want to be optimistic that it could approach that level of flamboyance again. I just bought it a new pot and some orchid potting mix, so we’ll see.

Here’s my coleus before it began its wild-and-crazy development:

And this red maranta (prayer plant) is the one I eventually took home and killed. 😦

And here are all the plants when I started my job and lined them all up in the window … before the sun destroyed them! See my inherited Christmas cactus on the right? It was so pale and anemic and in such a small pot for how big a plant it was. (And speaking of plants I took home and killed, on the far right you can see the lovely peperomia dolabriformis (maybe) that I received as a welcome gift when I started my job.)

Here are some newer pics of the cactus, including its first bloom phase and its most recent:

Last but not least, are some pictures taken through my computer camera over the course of the last two years. You can see my pothos has come a long way from that little basket, and my coleus is clearly setting up for world domination. And, as you’ll see, I’m not the only one who enjoys my green office!

Several things aren’t captured in these pics. My ZZ plant peeks out in the last picture, but just barely. My new parlor palm, my glittery pothos, the three pots of pothos grown from cuttings, and the ginormity of the cactus today are all out of frame.

Now that I’m spending more time in my office (3-4 days a week!), I’m thinking about changes I need to make. So many of these beauties need repotting, I’m questioning whether I should say farewell to my overblown coleus, and I want to get another spider plant and see if I can keep it alive for half a minute.

And do I want something flowery? My cyclamen, cactus, and orchid put up flowers, of course, but I’m thinking something fragrant. Years ago, someone gave me a beautiful thing, it was some kind of miniature orange blossom bush or some such fantasy creation. That was back when I had an actual garden outside my apartment. I think the plant was a sweet mock orange and was meant to be added to the hydrangeas and hostas I was growing outside. The plant was lovely, and when it bloomed, my living room smelled like heaven.

And I killed it in less than a month. Sigh.

As much as I don’t deserve to be trusted with growing things, I do seem to be getting a little better at it. And, now that I think about that garden I had when I lived in Prospect Heights, I didn’t kill any of the things that grew there. I left them to their own devices, and they did what they were meant to do. I had bleeding hearts and periwinkle in addition to the blue hydrangeas and the hostas. And there were a couple of other flowering things.

Seems like there really is hope for me!


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

My Greening Thumb

I changed jobs the summer before Covid. When I packed up to leave, I brought home the plants that had made my workspace happier: a prayer plant, a small dieffenbachia, a little pothos, an orchid, a jade plant, and a cyclamen I’d killed and resurrected at least a dozen times over the eight or nine years that it had had the misfortune to live with me. I’d kept the first three on my desk and the orchid, jade, and cyclamen on a window ledge not far away. That ledge was sunny, and they needed sun. 

I had a little over a week between jobs. As it turned out, that short time in my house was a disaster for all my plants. They hated my house. My apartment is sunny, but the difference in light, heat, and humidity between my office and my house were entirely unacceptable. My orchid, which had been setting up to bloom, dropped two leaves and the buds stopped growing. My cyclamen lost several leaves and choked off the buds that had started coming up. My dieffenbachia and pothos drooped. My jade dropped leaves and started shriveling at the base. In just 10 days! 

I installed my plants in my very sunny and warm new office immediately. I had a bright office and was certain it would give my poor plants a better environment than they’d found in my home. So I brought my leafy little friends to work … and almost killed every last one of them. 

I thought the wide window ledge in my new digs would be exactly what sun-hungry plants would love. Instead, they got too much sun: blazing, unobstructed sun through my east-facing window, sun so intense it burned the leaves on my cyclamen and dieffenbachia, sucked the life out of my jade plant and my pothos, and wilted my prayer plant. My orchid’s aerial roots dried and shriveled. And just like that, I was cast back to the bad old days of my plant-murderer past.

I grew up a plant killer, never able to keep any poor growing thing alive for more than a minute. This truth was particularly frustrating and shame-inducing given the spectacularly green thumbs of my grandmothers, my aunt, and my mother. With my office plants, I had been made brave by the years-long, in-spite-of-me survival of my cyclamen. I’d received it as a gift. Then I received a gift of the dieffenbachia and the pothos. They arrived in a lovely basket, accompanied by a tiny, elegant peace lily and an equally tiny parlor palm. The peace lily held on for a while, but my careless care soon brought on the end of it. That loss made me sad, but the pothos, parlor palm, and dieffenbachia stayed with me, greening up my windowed but surprisingly-dark office and making me think there was some hope for me after all. When I changed jobs a couple of years later, all three plants survived the move and seemed to adapt to their new space. And then the palm withered and died. I filled the empty space in the basket with a red prayer plant. Over the next couple of years, I acquired the orchid and the jade. The orchid was a gift to the office that no one else felt brave enough to attempt caring for, and the jade was left behind when a coworker moved on. I adopted both — the orchid with a little trepidation, as I’d killed an orchid once before.

And then I found myself in my new, brilliantly bright and hot office, and my plants faded fast. My new work team had welcomed me on board with a pretty little growing something that might have been a Peperomia dolabriformis (no name tag in the pot, but the dolabriformis was the closest looking plant I could find in images online). There were also two left-behind plants that I adopted: an red-brown not at all alive-looking aloe, and a Christmas cactus choking in a too-small pot. 

I did a lot of failing in the beginning. I took way too long to realize not all plants want as much sun as my window provided, took way too long to realize that the increased warmth of my office meant the plants would be thirstier and would need more water more often. The only plant that seemed happy in those early weeks was the Peperomia.

I had to unlearn everything I thought I knew about my plants and learn how they needed to be cared for in their new environment — like moving most of them out of the direct onslaught of the sun and watering them a LOT more to make up for the extra heat. In the first two weeks, I repotted first the cactus and then the pothos, jade, dieffenbachia, and prayer plant

Eight months in my new space, I was feeling cautiously successful. My plants and I had survived and I risked saying we’d begun to thrive. I further expanded the office greenery with a “fishnet stockings” coleus I’d adopted while at a writing residency. 

In those early months, I discovered that my pothos is a golden pothos — it never had variegated leaves in all the years I’d had it, but suddenly it was putting out huge, shiny, green and gold leaves. My prayer plant, which had lost its red and was putting out anemically-pale green leaves, started to grow larger leaves, started to add red again. The dieffenbachia, which never supported more than three small leaves on each … stem? stalk? (still a lot to learn!) … suddenly had six, then seven, then eight leaves, and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The coleus started working hard at becoming a tree. Its leaves stopped fish-netting almost as soon as I brought it home. They all turned bright-light green, some with a purple edging. I waited much too long to start following the care note that I found online about pinching back to “encourage bushiness.” I was wary of the pinching and I also loved how tall it was growing. 

The Christmas cactus immediately began putting up new growth, fluffing out in all directions. And then it began a spotty bloom. I’ve never had one of these plants before, and I was thrilled it was making flowers, so proud you’d think I was sprouting them myself!

The orchid made a slow comeback. It grew new leaves and put out a new set of flowers right before the pandemic, but its external roots were still in a bad place — it had taken me way too long to realize it couldn’t take the full force of the sun. 

The aloe was a big win. I’d figured it was for sure a lost cause, but I did a little reading (thank you, University of Google!) and found an article that said to move it out of the light, remove the outermost leaves so the plant could focus its recuperation energy more intensely … and then ignore it until it either revived or died, no water, no nothing. 

I followed the steps. It was in such sad condition, the drastic, ruthless approach seemed best. That was in mid-July. By mid-September, I told myself that I saw something not quite brown and not quite green happening with one of the smallest leaves. I was pretty sure I was lying to myself, but I kept thinking I saw that not-quite-green. And then I was convinced that I saw that not-quite-green spreading to other leaves. By March 2020, there was hardly any brown left, and it was only the palest brown.

And then came quarantine. 

I knew I couldn’t take the plants home. The original ones hated my house and had finally recovered from their two 2019 moves. I couldn’t risk them in my house. And the aloe and cactus had just come back to life. I couldn’t subject them to the dark heat chamber that is apparently how plants experience my bright, sunny apartment.

So I bought self-watering bulbs and angled my computer monitor so I could log into my office from home, turn on the camera and see how the plants were doing. No, seriously, I’m that person.

It’s about to be two years later … and most of my plants have survived. The peperomia gift that welcomed me to my new office was the first to go. I can’t say that I was ever caring for it properly because I was never sure exactly what it was. When it was clear it wasn’t doing well with the self-watering bulb, I brought it home … and it promptly gave up the ghost.

Next was my prayer plant (red maranta). I followed the advice of a few different online plant people, but … no.

I bought some new plants for my home … and killed many of them. I thought if they started in my house, they’d acclimate to my bad lighting, but mostly they just decided the plant hereafter was a more attractive option. The dearly departed: a spider plant (“But it’s impossible to kill a spider plant!”), a ruffled jade, an echeveria.

I also got a new prayer plant. After trying very hard to die, it has revived and is looking almost okay today. I brought home some cuttings from my office pothos, and they’re doing nicely. I bought a different kind of pothos — its leaves almost seem to have glitter on them, which is weird and fascinating — and it barely survived my house, so now it’s in my office and has come very nicely back to life. I bought a ZZ plant, a parlor palm, and another peperomia (an obtusifolia, not a dolabriformis) … and all of those were moved pretty quickly to my office after their instant rejection of my house.

My plan with the self-watering bulbs had been to work in my office once every other week. That turned into once a week when it became clear that the self-watering system didn’t give me the “two weeks peace of mind!” it claimed on the package. The larger plants barely made it a week with the bulb. So I put a second bulb in my pothos and a second and third bulb in the coleus. I spent a day a week in the office so I could take care of them and compliment them and be amazed at how well they were doing without me around. And, in addition to the newbies I’ve brought to the office over the last months, I also have three small pots full of cuttings from the pothos.

And I’ve discovered that my dieffenbachia … isn’t a dieffenbachia at all. It’s an aglaonema silver bay! And it’s done fabulously well during quarantine. It’s got two new plants, is putting out leaves like crazy, and is definitely ready for a larger pot.

I have no one’s idea of a green thumb. Not even close. But I’m realizing that I can’t think of myself as a plant killer anymore, either. Not entirely. I seem to be turning a corner. My farm-life fantasy may have a chance after all!


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot