The Oregon House of Representatives unanimously voted to support a bill which would prohibit public schools and employers from discriminating against people based on hairstyles associated with race.
Similar laws to House Bill 2935, colloquially referred to as the CROWN Act, have been passed in other US states in recent years. According to Rep. Janelle Bynum from Clackamas, “It’s an act of self-love for the Black community to be able to show up at work and school in public places as ourselves.”
In many situations, African Americans who wear their hair straightened or trimmed, or who wear wigs instead of their natural hair, are perceived as more professional and “clean cut.” But for hair with small, tight curls like African hair, natural hair or “protective styles,” which are sometimes perceived as unprofessional or a breach of dress code, are much better for hair health.
According to the CROWN Act, protective hairstyles include locs — sometimes called “dreadlocks,” twists, and braids — including those styled with adornments such as beads. People with these hairstyles, in addition to hair textures and types associated with race, would be protected from discrimination under the CROWN Act.
Although these hair types and hairstyles are becoming more normalized on the internet and social media, many people still face discrimination professionally or in educational institutions.
One incident which brought national attention to the issue was when Andrew Johnson, a New Jersey student wrestler, had to cut off his locs in order to compete in 2018. A local incident occurred in Portland this March when Marissa Martino, a student volleyball player, had to cut beads out of her braided hair for a game. Bynum said that she consistently receives worse treatment and more hostile emails when she wears her hair braided, as opposed to when she straightens it for public appearances.
By Ardea C. Eichner