Charleston adopts protections against hair discrimination; supporters to continue the local effort | Politics
Community organizers seeking to ban hair discrimination in West Virginia continue to move forward at the local level after Charleston City Council unanimously approved the CROWN Act ordinance.
The council vote on Monday will change the section of the city’s human rights code to include protection for protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks or twists. The new section of the code will prevent employers, businesses, real estate agents, agencies, organizations, etc. from firing, denying services, or discriminating against people based solely on their hairstyle or hair texture.
In West Virginia, the CROWN Act movement – which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” – began about an hour’s drive from Charleston. In December 2019, a Woodrow Wilson High School basketball coach told freshman Matthew Moore, 14, that his dreadlocks were not “clean” enough and needed to be cut. Moore told a local reporter that in the team’s second game he was sitting in the locker room tearing his hair out.
So, on Monday, Tiffany Wesley-Plear – who resigned as a city council member at the meeting after accepting a state post – called on council to pass the bill on behalf of the community members facing similar threats.
“I have received phone calls, I have received text messages. In particular, a man who works in a hospital texted me to say, “I’m afraid of losing my job where I worked, and I’m very good, because of the texture of my hair. and the way I choose to wear my natural hair, ”she said.
The former West Side board member said in a previous interview that unless you personally deal with this issue, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly the problem is. Just know, Wesley-Plear said, his teenage daughter has never even seen Wesley-Plear’s natural hair. That alone shows the importance of letting people style their hair the way they want, she said.
“Whether my hair is curly, braided, twisted, puffed, in an afro, any of those textured styles, it doesn’t make me unprofessional… it doesn’t change my qualifications,” she said.
The CROWN Act protects all people from hair discrimination, but data shows that this problem disproportionately affects black people, and primarily black women.
“There is no reason for us to be afraid or worry about the way my hair is growing out of my head,” Wesley-Plear said.
Charkera Ervin, a community organizer from Mercer County, is one of the early drivers of West Virginia’s CROWN Act movement. After Moore’s incident at Beckley, Ervin and other activists turned to the West Virginia legislature for a statewide solution. Supporters drafted a bill and looked to lawmakers to make sure it got to the governor’s office.
In the 2020 session, it was Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood, who told Moore’s mother she was trying to “undermine authority” and try to choose the rules for herself. A Republican-led committee killed the bill. This last session, it was Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, who killed the bill. He said supporters of the CROWN Law were “narrow” and disrespectful on phone calls. Roberts said they should also find out about the lengthy bill verification process, even though the bill was two sentences long.
So Ervin and company decided to hit the road this summer, speaking to local officials across West Virginia about the importance of protecting their constituents from hair discrimination.
“The importance for us to do it at the local level is that, you know, the people at the local level can be a lot more reasonable,” she said. “Obviously, everything at the Statehouse is politicized. “
Hair has not been politicized so far in Morgantown, which passed an ordinance of the CROWN Act on April 20, or in Beckley, where a bill was passed last month. Charleston was the third city to adopt the language of the bill.
Jennifer Wells, a community activist from Cabell County, said work is underway to pass the ordinance in Huntington. Organizers began working in cities in West Virginia with large black populations where there was already an understanding of the problem, she said, so that those uninformed about the problems created by hair discrimination can address them. hear directly from neighbors.
Wells said city officials, community members from the local NAACP chapter, the Pride organization, Marshall University and other groups have come together to raise awareness of the CROWN Act.
“We just sat down and said, ‘This is a real problem. We need to at least solve it in the books so we can start building [the reputation] that Huntington is a welcome community and city for all, ”said Wells.
The long-held stereotype that dark hair is unprofessional creates both subtle and overt racism in the workplace, Wells said.
“People have a certain point of view about certain hairstyles or hairstyles, and they can use it as a way to deny people an economic path,” she said. “The educational part around this question opens your eyes. People who, again, without prejudice or fault on their part, just haven’t really had to view hair as a problem, and are now beginning to understand the extent of discrimination and its depth.
Repeated heating and chemical treatment, needed to straighten hair, can create significant health problems, a 2019 study showed. Cancer rates in people who used these products were significantly higher in black women.
Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monogalia, presented the CROWN Act to the Legislature in the previous two sessions. As West Virginia’s only black lawmaker, Walker said she expects the bill to come back as many times as it takes.
“The CROWN Act will be introduced each year until it is passed in the state of West Virginia,” Walker said. “This is real discrimination that many West Virginia faces every day.”
Walker said she was “really, really upset” with Roberts’ explanation for killing Bill.
But if Roberts has done one thing for the people, Wells said, he has kindled a fire under those not so familiar with the political process but outraged by the bill’s demise.
“People don’t always know how the policy is adopted or how the policy evolves,” Wells said. ” And when [Roberts] blocking something as simple as this, we are able to show that this is how they operate when they really don’t want something that benefits you as a community or as an organizer to go through.
Ervin said the CROWN Act has brought a lot of people together over the past few months. These conversations have often shown that people can fight the same fights and that they don’t know they are not alone.
“When you get people together in a room and they’re discussing grievances, it kind of opens the door for other people to tell their story,” Ervin said. “There was this kind of effect where people were experiencing hair discrimination, and you couldn’t – no one else knew someone else was going through that.”
The work to protect against hair discrimination will continue at the local level until things change at the state level, Ervin said.
Walker called on state lawmakers to stop dismissing people’s concerns.
“Let’s finally have some peace with our hair,” Walker said, “because it’s such a big deal.”