The Oregon Senate has passed the state’s version of the CROWN Act, model legislation intended to prohibit race-based hair discrimination — including the denial of education or employment opportunities due to one’s natural hair texture or protective styles such as braids, locs and twists.
“It is an act of self-love for the Black community to be able to show up at work and school in public places as ourselves,” said Representative Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, one of the bill’s chief sponsors.
Based on the acronym “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” CROWN Acts have passed in at least 12 states since California became the first to do so in 2019.
Data from the national CROWN Act Coalition suggests that Black women and girls are one and a half times more likely to be sent home from work or school due to their hair.
Black women were also 80% more likely than White women to agree with the statement that they have to change their hairstyle from its natural state to fit in at the office.
Oregon currently prohibits school and workplace discrimination based on race, but the applicable definitions do not explicitly include hair type, texture or style. The passage of Oregon’s CROWN Act, House Bill 2935, will ensure that the definition of discrimination includes hair type, texture or style.
Bynum said the bill is “part of a larger conversation we are having about who created the rules, and who benefits from those rules.”
“It’s time for people to be able to express themselves unapologetically,” she said. “This bill will remove barriers to that, particularly for our young people, who should feel safe and welcomed in school sports and activities.”
Senator Lew Frederick, D-Portland, called the bill “a matter of fairness” and said discrimination based on hairstyle is “rooted in racism.”
“To equate a protective hairstyle or wearing a natural hair style as an indicator of one’s professionalism or of one’s right to access opportunity is wrong,” he said. “Black Oregonians should feel free to wear their hair any way they like without negative consequences.”
Denequa Jameelah Rasheed, a mother and community leader with Forward Together Action, was among those who advocated in support of the bill.
“As a Black mama, I’m raising my daughter to love her hair, to feel proud of it and to see it as beautiful,” she said. “I want her to feel good about her hair.”
While discrimination based on hair or hairstyle can be a real problem, Rasheed said Black people also commonly face awkward or uncomfortable situations based on their hair and the ways they choose to wear it, like unwanted physical contact or asking “intrusive questions.”
“We need the CROWN Act because Black children deserve to feel safe, to feel proud of our hair and how we want to wear it,” she said.
HB 2935 passed Wednesday with only Senator Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, voting against it. (Another senator, Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, was an excused absence.)
The bill cleared the House unanimously back in April, with two members absent. It now heads to Governor Kate Brown for her signature.
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