‘Not just about hair,’ Kansas lawmaker proposes ban on hairstyle based discrimination (KC Star)

Until this year Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau always wore her hair in a bun.

She said the goal was to ensure she wouldn’t offend people — her way of responding to stereotypes about Black hair.

Now, Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, wears her long hair down and natural. She’s hoping the state legislature will pass a bill that ensures every person the same choice.

On Thursday, Faust-Goudeau re-introduced the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. It died in committee last year when the COVID-19 pandemic halted business. The Kansas City Council unanimously approved a local version in October. It has been passed in four other states.

The bill amends existing anti-discrimination law in Kansas to prohibit bans on specific hairstyles, especially traditionally Black hairstlyes such as braids, locs and twists.

Faust-Goudeau said she was motivated to introduce the legislation after she watched an referee cut the dreadlocks off of a New Jersey high school wrestler before a match in 2018.

“That was devastating to me,” she said. “And then to learn that this was happening in the workplace, that African American women, to wear their natural, they couldn’t just be themselves and come to work and perform their work duties without changing who they were.”

Discrimination based on hairstyles in the workplace, Faust-Goudeau said, is all too common.

Just last month, a Black cheerleader said she was kicked off the Ottawa University cheerleading squad after an argument over her braids.

The result, Faust-Goudeau said, is an “inner emotional pain” that Black Americans feel when they look in the mirror and realize they need to alter their appearance to be viewed as professional.

“Some of my caucasian colleagues, they couldn’t figure out why,” she said. “I had to explain to them that you just wash your hair and you brush it and you’re gone. You don’t have to think about it.”

Michele Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, has been promoting Crown Act bills in local and state governments in the Midwest.

“It’s not just about hair,” she said. “It’s really about implicit bias that goes unchecked in organizations and systems.”

“Black people are typically the only people who wear braids, locs and twists and because those hairstyles are an extension of culture …those hairstyles and hair textures and cultural extensions of an expression of our culture through hairstyles is typically been viewed as dirty and unclean and unkempt because of historical perceptions of black hair that are rooted in racism.”

Because the bill tweaks existing law, Watley said, it is a simple change for governments with no financial impact. It is also a win-win for workers andemployers because it ensures the best talent is hired.

“It becomes a way to advance equity that is frankly easy,” Watley said.

If anyone needs proof that hairstyle has no bearing on ability, Watley said, they need to look no further than the Super Bowl and Patrick Mahomes’ curly head of hair.

“His teammates they have locs and they have braids and they have twists and that has not stopped them from getting us to two Super Bowls.”

This article appeared on the Kansas City Star website, here.