Rep. Janelle Bynum Introduces CROWN Act to Protect Black Oregonians From Hair Discrimination

Under current state law, Black hair can be discriminated against in workplaces and schools if deemed unprofessional or inappropriate, but the CROWN Act could change that.

State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) is sponsoring a bill to outlaw hair discrimination against Black people.

Washington and California have both already passed a similar bill, called the CROWN Act. The bill was introduced last spring, but a Republican walkout halted it, among many others, from being considered.

Bynum, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, will introduce House Bill 2935 on Monday. Under current state law, Black hair can be discriminated against in workplaces and schools if it's deemed unprofessional or inappropriate, but the CROWN Act could change that.

The bill's language "prohibits discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools," according to the advocacy group Forward Together Action.

"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. Many people view their hair as their crown and glory, why it's named the CROWN Act," Rep. Bynum says. "It's time for people to express themselves unapologetically."

Bynum says that the dominant culture—in this case Euro-centric features set as the beauty standard—is harmful to Black people in particular. "The dominant privilege culture sets the rules for everyone else," sh says.

Bynum says she and her children have faced discrimination because of their natural hair, a common story for her and many other Black Oregonians. When first running for office, Bynum decided to wear her hair straight to get a better shot at winning.

"It's really kind of sad, but the story that I told myself was that my opponents' hair was straight, so my hair should be straight so that they would judge us on the merits of our résumé rather than all of the projections of radicalism people subject us to based on the way we wear our hair," Bynum says.

Bynum says she's been stopped by police while wearing her natural hair styled in braids, adding that if the bill passes it will signal that Oregon doesn't approve of such discrimination.

"I get more hostile emails, more hostile treatment when I wear my hair braided, which is typically in the summer time," Bynum says. "I think [the CROWN Act] is a beacon that signals a change is on the horizon and is in the air for a freer and more just society. It also calls into clarity the fact that there are so many small injustices, for POC, particularly Black people, that go unnoticed and collectively weigh on us. We should not be policed for hair."

Rae Dunnaville is a member of Forward Together Action committee, and this bill is personal to her as a Black woman who's had to be conscious about her hair and surroundings.

"I've often had to be really intentional about which kinds of work I could apply for and which environment I projected myself to avoid potential discrimination around my appearance," Dunnaville says.

She would like to see her children, ages 3 and 7, to grow up in a world where they don't have to feel singled out for their hair or discriminated against because of the way their natural hair is styled.

"I'm really advocating for a future where my children will enjoy the freedom to participate in school events, work in the industries of their choice without being subject to racial discrimination on the basis of their hairstyles," Dunnaville says.

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