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Rep. Gordon-Booth sponsors bill to prevent hair discrimination

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth is a Democrat from Peoria.
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State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth is a Democrat from Peoria.

A new bill would make discrimination against natural hairstyles illegal in the workplace in Illinois, by amending the definition of race to include natural and protective hairstyles as a racial characteristic.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, is the House sponsor of the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair. She said the bill was inspired by an incident in which a high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before a wrestling match in New Jersey. The young man’s dreads supposedly did not meet the standards for appropriate meet attire.

Gordon-Booth said lots of Black people she knows have faced similar discrimination, herself included, based on wearing their hair in natural or traditional Black styles.

“We had our own stories about being treated as though we were not professional or on par, simply because of the way that our hair happens to grow out of our head,” said Gordon-Booth.

Gordon-Booth said now is the time to make it law, especially as the U.S. Senate is poised to confirm a Black woman, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time.

“We live in a society now where we are living through such a historic moment where we have an African American woman who is hopefully going to be confirmed to the highest court in the land. This particular individual wears natural hair,” Gordon-Booth said of Judge Jackson.

The CROWN Act passed unanimously through the Illinois Senate and now moves to the House for a vote.

A similar federal bill is currently up for debate in the U.S. Senate as well, having passed in the U.S. House with bipartisan support.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.