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Kansas City adopts CROWN Act, protecting Black people from hair discrimination

BY ALLISON KITE OCTOBER 01, 2020 05:24 PM




Michele Watley, from left, of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, and Kansas City Councilwomen Melissa Robinson and Ryana Parks-Shaw at Plush Life Beauty Lounge Tuesday to encourage the city to pass a the CROWN Act. It would ban discrimination against braids, locks and twists, hairstyles worn and favored by Black residents. The CROWN Act is an acronym for ‘Create a Respectful and Open World (or Workplace) for Natural Hair.’ TAMMY LJUNGBLAD TLJUNGBLAD@KCSTAR.COM


Kansas City will expand its anti-discrimination policies to ensure Black people are not discriminated against for wearing their hair naturally or in styles such as twists or locs, the City Council decided Thursday.


Members voted unanimously to enact the CROWN Act, which includes hair style and texture in the city’s definition race discrimination. In effect, it bars businesses from discriminating against Black people who wear their hair naturally or protective styles, such as dreadlocks, twists or braids.


Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw brought the legislation, which passed committee Wednesday. It mirrors measures passed in several states. Kansas City is among the first cities to pass the legislation. State legislators in Kansas and Missouri have introduced similar legislation.


“I know how it feels to be judged because of my hair, and no one should have to deal with this kind of covert racism,” Parks-Shaw said in a press release celebrating the passage. “Black men and women should be able to wear their natural hair without backlash or consequence.”


Robinson quoted the late U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, who said anti-Black and anti-female discrimination “are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.”


“This legislation demonstrates that Kansas City recognizes the importance of racial reconciliation, and we are committed to removing all barriers that are rooted in bias and prejudice,” Robinson said.

Mayor Quinton Lucas also celebrated the passage and will sign the legislation at a ceremony at Salon TCB on Friday.


“For far too long, Black women and men in our community and throughout our country have been discriminated against — particularly in workplace settings — for embracing their natural hair texture and styles,” Lucas said.


Robinson and Parks-Shaw were supported by Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, which advocates for Black women. Supporters said it’s common for employers to discriminate against Black people based on hair style.


“When I talk about Black Lives Matter, it’s about making sure that we have a community, a Kansas City that’s inclusive — in which all people have the opportunity and the protection to show up as their whole self without any type of fear or worry that they’re going to be rejected based on their skin color, based on the way that their hair naturally grows from their head,” Robinson said in committee on Wednesday.

Robinson, Parks-Shaw and Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet founder Michele Watley held a press conference Tuesday to raise awareness of the issue alongside Jennifer Duckworth, who owns Plush Life Beauty Lounge on Main Street. Duckworth said too often her clients come to the salon to have their hair straightened or blown out before a job interview because they fear their natural hair will keep them from getting hired.


Parks-Shaw said when she was running for office last year she often struggled with whether to wear her natural curls or straighten her hair. She said hair discrimination can mean Black people are passed over for jobs or promotions based on their hair or required to cut or change it to fit a dress code.


“Black women and men should feel comfortable enough to bring their authentic self to work without backlash or consequences,” Parks-Shaw said.

Watley recalled at the press conference that in 2018, Tyree Bayan was denied a job at Cool Crest Family Fun Center because of his dreadlocks.

“Rules that ban locs, braids and twists are rooted in racist stereotypes about Black hair being unkempt, unclean, unprofessional and not beautiful,” Watley said.