Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas is spearheading a bill for the 2020 legislative session to tackle some of the more subtle forms of racial discrimination in Oregon.
While House Bill 4017’s primary function is requiring businesses to accept cash payments, it also extends protections against racial discrimination to include hairstyles.
Bynum told The Oregonian “What we’re trying to address is essentially what some people would call, ‘back-door discrimination.’”
While many businesses are going cashless for the sake of convenience or to prevent theft, Bynum says that this disproportionately affects people of color. According to a study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, in 2017 over 16 percent of African American families did not have access to a bank, nor did 14 percent of Latino families.
The second half of the bill is targeted at dress codes that are similarly harmful to people of color. It refines the definition of race to include “physical characteristics that are historically associated with race, including but not limited to natural hair, hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.” Examples given in the text are braids, locs and twists.
“We shouldn’t have to assimilate our hair to fit in to our own country,” reads a statement from the Black Student Union of LaSalle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie, co-written by Bynum’s own daughter Christine.
HB 4017 has managed to gain bipartisan support, although it does face resistance from business interests opposed to the cash transaction requirement. If passed, the bill would take effect in July 2021.
According to Bynum, “One of the goals of my office is to make sure that we call (discrimination) out, we address it and we make this state more inclusive for everyone.”
By Brandon Urey