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Denequa Jameelah Rasheed
Denequa Jameelah Rasheed, Community Leader, Forward Together Action
Published: 01 June 2021

It is time for Black women in Oregon to liberate ourselves, starting with one of the most controversial issues, our hair.

For many Black women, our hair is like a crown. It is a signifying part of our identity and culture. Although our crowns can be a source of pride and beauty, they can also be a pain point full of hurtful experiences and memories. Most of the Black women I know either have a story about a random person touching their hair in public or have experienced workplace discrimination because of their hair styles.

The coils that dance atop our heads are our beautiful crowns that must be respected and protected. That’s why it’s time for our elected officials to support Black women and pass the CROWN Act (HB 2935), which prohibits discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools.

Right now, Oregon does not protect people from race-based hair discrimination, even if the hairstyle is a part of someone’s racial identity. That means Black people can be, and have been, denied opportunities for employment or professional advancement with no recourse. It also means Black children can be denied entry to school or educational opportunities because of their natural hair.

Parkrose student required to cut braids

Earlier this year a Black student was forced to cut her braids just to play a game of volleyball.

You read that right — Marissa, a Black 16-year-old student at Parkrose High School in Portland was told by a referee that the beads in her hair meant she couldn't play in the game. The coach handed her a pair of scissors and she had to cut the beads out of her hair.

Marissa should never have been in this situation. She deserved to be celebrated and affirmed — not policed and traumatized for her hair.

What happened to Marissa happens to Black students all the time. Black students are told they need to change their hair to be at school, to be part of school sports or to participate in afterschool activities. These rules say: it's okay to exclude Black students based on their identity and hair.

Hurtful memories

This story brought back my own hurtful memories of school and a teacher combing out the curls my Mom had so carefully created for picture day. When those pictures got home, my Mom went into school and had words with my teacher — and you can bet she never touched my hair again.

But my Mom shouldn't have had to go into the school at all: no one should have touched my hair.

Passing the CROWN Act will mean Black Oregonians will no longer have to give up parts of our culture or our identity just to be able to go to school or work.

As a Black mama, I'm raising my daughter to love her hair, to feel proud of it and to see it as beautiful. I want her to feel good about her hair. But I've also had to prepare her for the ways the world wants to interact with her hair, when people want to touch her hair without her consent or ask intrusive questions.

Why we need the CROWN Act

We need the CROWN Act because Black children deserve to feel safe, to feel proud of our hair and how we want to wear it.

Passing the bill through the Oregon Senate is the next step in making the CROWN Act law in our state — and ensuring that what happened to Marissa never happens to another Black student in our state.

The Oregon Senate has not yet voted to approve the CROWN Act yet, so we need to make some noise and urge our elected officials to move the bill now. call on our elected officials and encourage our family and friends to do the same.

The CROWN Act has already passed in seven states, including California, Washington, Colorado, New York and three other states. There are more than 20 other states that have introduced legislation at the state level, and there’s also a federal level CROWN Act being considered by Congress. Now, it’s time for Oregon to be part of this wave to free Black women’s hair.

Join us in this movement to liberate Black women. Contact your Senator today to tell them to vote YES on HB 2935, The CROWN Act.

Lastly, until Black women are free, none of us will be free.

Find your Oregon senator with this tool. View full contact list of Oregon state senators here.

Denequa Jameelah Rasheed is Community Leader for Forward Together Action.

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