Connecticut House Joins National Civil Rights Campaign On Black Hair Styles



Representative Patricia Billie Miller, who says she chose to wear African-influenced clothing for the session, advocated for a bill to protect black women from discrimination over their hair.

The stories were personal, some from childhood. Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, recalled walking into the wrong bathroom as a young girl in North Carolina in the late 1950s, only to be grabbed by the hair by a white store manager and thrust towards her mother.

“He said, ‘Get your kid out to my store’s diaper head,’” Walker said.

Others spoke of pressure to comply. Representative Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, spoke of the shame of caving decades ago, straightening her hair to be hired – only to have her young daughter beg to straighten her own hair.

These stories of black women were at the heart of the debate on Wednesday leading up to a 139: 9 vote by the House of Representatives to pass Connecticut’s version of the Crown Act, an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The bill now goes to the Senate.

Laws prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles historically associated with race. California passed the first version in 2019 and was quickly followed by half a dozen states and the United States House of Representatives.

The legislation is a reaction to some courts’ refusal to end what advocates say is discrimination directed primarily against black girls and women over how they can wear their hair on athletic fields and in the office. The courts disagreed on whether certain hairstyles associated with blacks were racial characteristics protected by law.

“We deserve to be accepted in our authenticity,” said Representative Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, the measure’s primary sponsor.

In a day otherwise devoted to tax measures, The law project was rushed upstairs in the House, at least in part as a reprimand for racist abuse on social media recently directed at Porter.

“Do you know how we react? Not on social media, ”Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said ahead of the session at a press conference with the Black and Puerto Rican caucus. “We pass bills, when we immediately come back with a law on the Crown Act. “

Parliamentary Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, consented to the quick vote, noting that a similar measure was tabled last year before the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early end at the 2020 session.

“So this has been fully verified,” Candelora said.

COVID is still hampering the legislature. Public hearings and committee meetings are conducted by video conference, and most members of the House watched the debate on Wednesday and voted from their desks.

“Given that we are limiting the time we spend in the House, the opportunity has arisen to pass legislation that is acceptable. And besides, none of us forgets that we are in Black History Month, ”said Candelora, who voted for the bill.

The nine negative votes were cast by Republicans.

One was Representative Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, an Asian woman married to a Caucasian man. She said her Métis son had been subjected to racial epithets by opponents in athletic competitions.

“The racial epithet hurts, and hurts me when he comes home and tells me what he was told,” Fiorello said.

But she said she did not see the legislation as an antidote to racism.

“The journey we are taking is not just about passing laws,” she said. “We can pass many more like this bill. We can pass laws and laws and fight every case of racism. Today it is the texture of the hair.

Fiorello said she preferred the conversation.

After the vote, when Porter celebrated the crossing, Fiorello waited to speak to him. They briefly discussed the possibility of finding common ground on other issues.


Representative Kimberly Fiorello, left, who spoke out against the bill, listens to a supporter, Representative Brandon McGee.


David R. Brewer

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