Oregon House Passes CROWN Act Banning Hair Discrimination

“Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.”

P1000372 42nd Avenue Fish and Chips. (Brian Burk)

On Wednesday, Oregon took a step toward joining Washington, California and many other states that prohibit race-based hair discrimination.

House Bill 2935, also known as the CROWN Act, is intended to prevent discrimination against Black people and people of color who choose to wear their cultural hairstyles such as locs, braids and twists. It would apply to private and public employers as well as in educational settings.

On April 28, the house unanimously voted to pass the CROWN Act, which is an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, sending it off to the Senate.

Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-East Portland), chief sponsor of the bill, explained it on the House floor April 28. “The CROWN Act is about self-love for the Black community,” she said.

During her presentation, she pointed out how Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair, and are also 3.4 times more likely to have their hair perceived as unprofessional.

Bynum, who says she has faced hair discrimination herself, gave a recent example of the types of discrimination Black Oregonians currently face. Marissa Martino, a Black teenager at Parkrose High School, was forced to cut the braids out of her hair or lose the chance to play in a volleyball game in March.

“She was supposed to be experiencing joy by playing,” Rep. Bynum says. “Marissa was forced to make a decision that no child should have to make. She was forced to internalize that her normal did not fit the acceptable standard for beauty.”

A handful of other state officials spoke in favor of the bill, including Rep. Andrea Valderrama (D-East Portland) and Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland).

“Sometimes we have to recognize that it’s not about you, whoever you are, it’s not about you,” Sanchez said. “We are cultures, we are languages, we are different, and everyone should be respected for who they are and what they bring to the world.”

A lengthy dialogue ensued in the House, as Rep. Bynum and others responded to questions about the bill—which passed unanimously.

“Where we as a society can do everything that we can to make kids feel welcomed, included, supported, like they have a shot at life. We should remove all barriers to that. We just want kids to play and to show up as they are,” Bynum said. “It’s about the liberation of all Oregonians to be who they are, to show up as they are.”

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