Students lobby for CROWN Act

The CROWN Act, an anti-discriminatory bill first introduced and passed in the California Legislature in 2019, seems straightforward at first glance. It pushes for an end to racially homogeneous standards of beauty and professionalism. 

Yet in Oregon, a state with a long history of state-sanctioned white supremacy in areas ranging from housing policy to the freedom of movement itself, the bill is facing a comparative lack of visibility.

CROWN (short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) has been introduced or passed in 26 state legislatures as of February 2020, including as a provision of Oregon’s HB 4107. The Oregon bill would expand the boundaries of racial discrimination to include “physical characteristics … historically associated with race, including but not limited to natural hair, hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles”.

“[The bill] was introduced to prevent backdoor discrimination,” says Neferkara, co-president of Brothers of Color. “Which is basically just more subtle ways of discriminating that are systemic in our state, our legislature [etc.].”

Neferkara and other representatives from Brothers of Color were among those who testified in support of the bill in front of the Oregon House Committee on Judiciary on Feb. 3. 

Lincoln junior Caleb Dickson, who also testified, cited U.S. Department of Labor statistics that black women are “80 percent more likely” to change their natural hair to meet workplace norms and expectations; they are also 50 percent more likely to be sent home as a result of their hairstyle or to know someone who has been. 

During the hearing, many were questioned on the other chief provision of the bill, which would force all Oregon stores to accept cash payments. Though intended to prevent discrimination against those without access to debit or credit cards, several Republican members of the committee expressed concerns that the provision could enable break-ins. 

Others wondered why the CROWN Act wasn’t introduced as its own bill.

“Obviously the CROWN Act is pretty straightforward, I don’t see a way that someone could argue against it,” indicates Neferkara. “But I don’t know [if the bill will pass] because a lot of people, even in the hearing, raised concerns about the cashless stores’ provision.”

In the three states that have passed the CROWN Act so far– California, New York and New Jersey– the bill has been introduced without additional provisions unrelated to natural hair-based discrimination. 

Oregon’s bill, in addition to the CROWN Act and cashless stores, includes provisions on school dress codes and the ability of school districts to voluntarily join select organizations. Several Republican legislators have already indicated their lack of support for the bill as a result of the additional provisions.

Neferkara believes that hair texture is just as emblematic of race as skin color. If that’s the case, Oregon legislators may face questions about why they didn’t introduce the CROWN Act as a unitary bill against anti-blackness– instead of lumping it in with a handful of more controversial positions.

As of the time of this writing, the Oregon House of Representatives has not yet brought the bill to a vote; students invested in the issue of natural hair-based discrimination should contact their representatives.