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Black lawmakers ask Missouri House committee to ban discrimination based on natural hair

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House committee heard testimony Tuesday about three bills that would ban discrimination based on hair texture in some contexts.

Three black state lawmakers — Democrat Representatives Raychel Proudie of Ferguson, LakeySha Bosley of St. Louis and Ashley Bland Manlove of Kansas City — filed versions of a national bill called the CROWN Act in the House Special Committee on Urban Issues on Tuesday .

“Ultimately, we want to make sure that children, our students, taxpayers are not discriminated against by the way their natural hair grows out of their heads,” Proudie said.

The lawmakers’ push is part of a national movement to embrace hair texture and styles associated with race, such as locks and curly hair.

In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Law, before the bill finally died in a Senate filibuster.

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Twenty states have adopted legislation to ban hair discrimination, and 24 states are considering bills to address the issue, according to the CROWN Act website.

Proudie’s legislation would only affect state-funded educational institutions, but Bosley and Manlove have sought to outlaw discrimination in the workforce as well.

A bill Proudie introduced last year also addressed workplace discrimination, but she said on Tuesday that safety concerns in some industries led her to narrow the bill to focus solely on education. He has indicated that he will seek workplace protections after securing them for the schools.

“​​There have been conversations about doing it just for schools so our kids aren’t [discriminated against], and then we can fight over the other employment discrimination issues,” Proudie said. But I reject this because it is also women of color in their work who are discriminated against.”

Security concerns were raised again on Tuesday, but Proudie said those concerns have been addressed since he introduced his bill last year. This year’s release allows classes, such as woodworking or the culinary arts, to require hairnets for safety.

A similar bill passed unanimously in the Missouri House last year but never went to the Senate.

Kansas City and St. Louis have already enacted local laws prohibiting hair texture discrimination.

Public testimony centered on personal experiences, such as not being able to find a job with an Afro hairstyle.

Kaylee Adams, a student at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, said she felt her hair was “too much work” and “too different” as a child growing up in a predominantly white school.

“When I got compliments on my hair, it was often because my mom and I spent over four hours straightening it up to look like other students,” she said.

A stat from the 2021 CROWN Research Study for Girls from personal care brand Dove, shared by Bland Manlove, shows that Adams’ story isn’t unique. 66% of black girls in predominantly white schools report hair discrimination compared to 45% of black girls overall.

The Perception Institute, a research center with a focus on discrimination, studied the perception of black women’s hair in 2016. White women surveyed rated black women’s natural hair as less beautiful, sexy, and professional than straight hair.

Black women reported experiencing higher rates of anxiety about their hair than the white women studied. One in five black women said they felt pressured to straighten their hair for work, twice as many as white women.

All three of the bill’s sponsors said they felt that pressure.

Bosley said someone at the Capitol told her to straighten her hair, but she intentionally wore her hair an afro.

“I want young girls to see me and to go to my site when they’re looking for their rep to see someone who looks like them,” she said.

The committee had few questions for the sponsors, other than their safety concerns.

Rep. Brad Banderman, R-St. Clair, asked if the legislation could lead to lawsuits when people with natural hair aren’t given opportunities, perhaps for other reasons.

“Are we opening ourselves up, broadly speaking, to a lot of litigation on an issue that may have had nothing to do with that person’s hair?” he said.

Proudie said plaintiffs must always prove their claims in discrimination cases.

Rep. David Casteel, R-High Ridge, asked about hairstyles that include hair pieces.

“You guys talked about extensions and wigs,” she said. Are we just talking about natural hair or are we talking about alterations?

Sponsors said wigs and hair extensions are part of protective styles, meaning hairstyles that protect natural curls, covered by the legislation.

The committee did not intervene Tuesday, but chairman Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City, indicated future action.

“I believe the members of this committee will be dedicated to trying to find the best version,” he said. “I look forward to working with all of you.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of grant-supported news bureaus and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Jason Hancock with questions: [email protected]. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Chirping.

The Missouri legislature reflects the federal structure in many ways. Video by Beth O’Malley

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