House Dems move to bar hair discrimination

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Grammy-winner India Arie said it first: “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am the soul that lives within.” 

Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, quoted the R&B artist in pushing a bill she is co-sponsoring with 27 other Democratic representatives to outlaw discrimiantion on the basis of hairstyle.. 

The proposal, called the CROWN Act is part of a national movement. CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” according to the campaign’s website. 

Introduced by Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, it would protect people with natural Black hair and protective hairstyles such as braids, dreads and locks from discrimination under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing.

Michigan House of Representatives

Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing.

“Discrimination based on hairstyles has long served as a thinly veiled excuse to discriminate based on race,” Anthony said at a press conference..

The legislation would allow people to file discrimination complaints with the Department of Civil Rights over hair-based discrimination. 

The department would then investigate these claims to determine whether discrimination occurred. It would also include the proposed change in civil rights law in its trainings, outreach and education. 

The legislation would allow people to file discrimination complaints with the Department of Civil Rights over hair-based discrimination. 

According to Vicki Levengood, the communications director for the department, hair-based discrimination is already protected under state law because it is a “physical characteristic associated with race.”

“We encourage anyone that is facing that kind of discrimination to be in touch with us,” she said, “We would then take that complaint.” 

Whitsett said, “This is a very important matter that is long overdue to be addressed. It goes all the back to being a kid – to wear your hair naturally was too Black, to be perfectly honest.” 

A 2020 employment-related study led by Christy Zhou Koval, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University, found that Black women with natural hair were consistently ranked less professional than Black women with straight hair and than white women. 

Koval and her co-researcher, Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, the senior associate dean and a management professor at Duke University, conducted four studies that allowed hundreds of participants to evaluate the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of female job applicants. 

Black women with natural hair were ranked less competent and received fewer referrals for interviews, according to the study. 

Koval and Rosette argued that because white people have primarily held positions of power in Western countries, the general standard for professionalism is based on white characteristics.

“For women, this suggests features such as having straight hair,” the study said. 

“It really opens your eyes. When people are looking for something to discriminate against, they will find a way, and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Rep. Lori Stone, D-Warren, another co-sponsor. 

Similar legislation has passed in seven states including California, New York and Washington, according to the CROWN Act campaign. 

Other co-sponsors of the Michigan bill include Reps. Mary Cavanaugh, D-Redford Township., Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, and Abraham Aiyash, D-Detroit. 

The legislation is pending in the House Judiciary Committee. There is no hearing scheduled.

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