WEST VIRGINIA (WVVA)- Three states have enacted the CROWN Act, making it illegal to discriminate against a person, specifically black men and women, for their hair texture or style. And advocates are pushing for West Virginia to be next on the CROWN Act list.
The CROWN Act stands for 'Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.' It's a national effort to put a stop to hair discrimination which includes bills that would make the actions illegal.
California was the first state to introduce and pass the CROWN Act, followed by New York and New Jersey.
In California, the bill (SB-188) passed in the Senate 37-0, bipartisan vote. The state assembly later voted unanimously, 69-0 to pass it.
As of now, 22 states have introduced or are considering the CROWN Act, including West Virginia. House Bill 4508 has been introduced but appears to be stalled in the committee. If the bill is not put on the agenda by Sunday, it could be tabled.
HB 4508: A BILL to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new section, 2 designated §5-11-22, relating to making it illegal to discriminate based on hair texture or 3 hair style; and defining terms. Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia: ARTICLE 11. HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION. §5-11-22. Protective hairstyles; definitions. 1 (a) The term “race”, for the purposes of this article, include traits historically associated 2 with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. 3 (b) The term “protective hairstyles” include, but not be limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locs, and twists. NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to make it illegal to discriminate based on hair texture or hair style.
The bill applies to natural and "protective hairstyles" which includes braids, locs and twists.
"The CROWN Act ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes. "
Delegate Danielle Walker is the lead sponsor of HB 4508. She says no one should be penalized for wearing their natural hair.
"I cannot control the way my curls and coils grow from my scalp," said Walker. "What I can ask is for people to respect it and for states to move forward and protect it, as other states have done."
Ravon Patton is from Bluefield, WV, and has been wearing his hair in locs for nine years. He feels the underlying issue for many people participating in hair discrimination is their adherence to stereotypes.
"You can see a Caucasian with a bald head and you're not gong to think [he's] a Neo-Nazi," said Patton. "It's the same [type of] perception for dreadlocks. Soon as the person [discriminating] sees us with locs, they automatically think we're a thug. That's simply not true."
Patton fully supports passing the bill, stating hair discrimination is simply a reality for many in the black community, and leaders in West Virginia need to do what's necessary for their minority constituent's protections by passing it.
"Please hurry up," said Patton. "African American women suffer a lot, with how they must wear their hair at work. We are the minorities and we are the ones that usually get discriminated against. We shouldn't be judged on how we wear our hair."
"My locs come from my strength and wisdom. My hair does not define my character. Instead of judging a person on appearance, judge them on their character, their morals and values, instead of judging a person on your perception." Patton
Delegate Walker is encouraging residents in support of the bill to contact the capital immediately, by contacting the Chair of the Committee Gary Howell.
Howell can be contacted at (304) 790-9022, or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The CROWN Coalition is an alliance of organizations, including founding members Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change and Western Center on Law and Poverty.