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York City Council proposes legislation to ban discrimination against race-based hairstyles

The Crown Act is designed to prohibit discrimination against Black people based upon their hairstyles.

YORK, Pa. — York City Council Vice President Edquina Washington has worn her natural hair for 20 years. She was taught at a young age that her crown is beautiful. 

Still, that would not hide her from the discrimination she would face for simply wearing her real hair.

That's why she's proposing the Crown Act to York City Council.

"I've experienced looks, [and] I've experienced individuals [who] have asked me [if] can they touch my hair," said Washington. "Just because an individual has braids in their hair, it does not make them look unprofessional or unable to complete their job duties."

The Crown Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition in partnership with then State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California.

The law prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or styles like locs, braids or twists.

"For me and my hair, I usually get people who want to touch it," said Melanie Baldwin, a York resident. "It doesn't bother me at all because they want to see how it's done. It doesn't bother me because I'm educating."

This proposed legislation seeks to amend the city of York's Human Relations Ordinance, an ordinance that hasn't been updated to add a protected class since 1997.

"Certainly the fact that we still have to do these sorts of things is disheartening but I'm glad that we have the tools in place and that we're willing to take the necessary steps to apply those tools," said Stephanie Seaton, the chair of York's Human Relations Commission.

The Crown Act is a law in seven states. In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are the only cities that have signed it into law.

Federally, the Crown Act passed in the U.S. House last year, and it's currently awaiting votes from the Senate before heading to President Biden's desk.

"To think that we have to put in place things that make us okay, it's annoying," Baldwin said.

While she has encountered some racial slurs on social media regarding the Crown Act, Washington says she's received overwhelming support from the community.

She's hopeful this act will pass in the coming weeks. 

"I believe it's extremely important to embrace who we are because this is how we were born," said Washington. "This is the natural composition of our hair."

York City Council will vote on the Crown Act on May 18.

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