DENVER (CBS4) – Dozens of men and women of color went before Colorado lawmakers to tell stories of discrimination, based on how they style their hair. The testimony came before the state legislature’s Democratic Black Caucus.
It met Wednesday afternoon in advance of a committee hearing on a bill by Rep.s Leslie Herod and Janet Buckner. It would outlaw discrimination based on hair texture, type and style.
Hashim Coates was among those who testified. He described how his manager passed him over for a promotion because of his hairstyle.
“Without cutting my hair it was going to stop my upward mobility,” he said.
Simone Ross says she too has faced workplace discrimination because of her hair. She says her manager made degrading comments to her colleagues.
“Hair discrimination is racial discrimination. Period,” Ross said.
“Because looking at me with braids was like watching a monkey in a zoo,” said Ross, referring to comments she heard about her appearance.
Herod and Buckner’s bill would make hair discrimination part of the racial discrimination statute.
“It’s time we state clearly that in Colorado, people who choose to express their culture and heritage through their hairstyle will be embraced, not subjected to discrimination,” Herod said.
The bill — called the CROWN Act — is modeled after laws in California, New York and New Jersey.
“CROWN – ‘Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair’ — is an important step forward for racial equality and freedom of expression,” said Herod.
“I’m here representing myself as one of the first wave of probably hair harrassment,” Reynelda Muse told lawmakers.
As the first woman and first African American TV news anchor in Colorado, Muse made news when she changed her hair. She was hired by Channel 4 in 1968. A few months into the job, she changed her hairstyle to an Afro.
She says feedback from the public wasn’t kind.
“I received mail. ‘Dear jungle bunny.’ Another wrote to say ‘you look like you combed hair with egg beater.'”
But she says she is one of the lucky ones.
“To their (management’s) credit, they never told me I would be fired or sanctioned if I didn’t change it. But a lot of my sisters and brothers have not been so fortunate.”
More than 100 people showed up to testify about how they feared repercussions for expressing their cultural identity through an ethnic hairstyle.
The bill passed its first committee on a party line vote.
UPDATE: The bill got initial approval in the Colorado House.