Hair styles

The law would protect hairstyles based on race

Christina Jackson, 13, hailed as a “young black queen on Tuesday,” doesn’t want to pander to a future employer’s racist attitude toward wearing her hair in braids or corn rows.

And under a bill that died during last year’s pandemic which is now reignited in the General Assembly, she and black women, as well as men across the state of Connecticut, could proudly wear ethnic hairstyles historically associated with race.

Jackson could wear her hair freely at gymnastics competitions, while both men and women would have legal recourse under state protections against housing, education and workplace discrimination.

The “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” (CROWN) law is part of a national effort to protect most black residents. If passed, Connecticut will join other states including California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado and Washington with the anti-bias law.

In a virtual morning press conference on Tuesday ahead of a public hearing at the Labor and Public Employees Committee, Jackson, now a college student in Windsor, said hair discrimination became a barrier for her early in life. .

“When I was about eight years old, I was on a competitive gymnastics team and as you might have guessed, the majority of the girls on my team were white, with thin, straight hair,” a- she declared. “I’ve always worn my hair in box braids, a very versatile hairstyle, and I braided my box braids in two rows of corn. My coaches constantly told me that my braids were too loose, when in reality they never restricted my movements during class. It was unfair to me because my white peers wore their hair in loose ponytails that they constantly had to fix and redo to their liking.

She also felt pressure to straighten her hair which she could put into buns in the style of the other girls.

“I wanted my hair to be like theirs so badly, I wanted straight hair so I could be like my teammates,” Jackson recalled. “This process ruined my hair and bruised my self-esteem.”

“Our hair is a natural extension of ourselves,” said Adrienne W. Cochrane, CEO of the Hartford-area YWCA, where Christina is a Youth Ambassador. “It’s not just about hair. It’s a question of choice. It’s all about respect and being able to rock your coronation the way you want.

State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said too often people’s hairstyles overshadow their job performance in workplaces where employers might show discrimination.

“A lot of us get judged, reprimanded, passed over for promotion or even fired for the way we wear our hair at work,” she said. “Women have always had to deal with societal pressures to look a certain way. All women, right? But if you’re a black woman in America, the stakes of that pressure are so much higher and conformity is often a means of survival.

Porter and other supporters of the bill hailed the teenager as a “young black queen” who proudly represents her generation in the YWCA’s Young Women’s Leadership Corps.

The bill, which is expected to pass through committee and head next to the House of Representatives, would amend state discrimination laws to include hairstyles in housing, public accommodations such as schools, employment and credit transactions.

“What has been so clear to me over the past four years, but especially over the past year, is the importance of addressing equity at all levels,” said Senator Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, the other co-chair of the committee, recalling that it would have been adopted last year but the pandemic closed the General Assembly. “We can’t say we’re trying to address systemic racism if we don’t address these equity issues on all platforms, on all fronts.”

Kushner said if approved in the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, there would be grounds for filing a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity and filing a lawsuit in court. superior.

“We don’t want a blur as to whether or not natural hairstyles are protected under current law,” Kushner said. “That will. I think, strengthen the law, but also give people the ability to enforce the law and remedy their work situations.

[email protected] Twitter: @KenDixonCT