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Politics & Government

‘All Hair Is Good Hair’: Panel Discusses The Importance Of Ending Racial-Based Hair Discrimination

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting.
Emily Means
/
KUER
Alexandra Barbier, Erika George and Wendy Greene talked about the CROWN Act and representing African hairstyles in art and media.

Alexandra Barbier is a dance artist based in Salt Lake City. She has very curly hair that is “really hard to manage.”

“It’s worth it, but washing, conditioning, oiling, all of the things that you have to do to make sure that it doesn’t get matted beyond control is very time-consuming,” Barbier said.

Shewas part of a panel discussion Thursday hosted by the University of Utah to talk about the CROWN Act.

The legislation would ban discrimination in workplaces and schools against African hairstyles, like afros and braids. It was introduced during Utah’s 2021 Legislative session but failed to get out of committee.

Barbier participated in Black Refractions, a recent exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. She said the lack of support from state lawmakers sent a painful message.

“The message is that you’re not OK,” she said. “That how you are naturally is unacceptable and that you have to change yourself to be able to be taken seriously, to be able to be respected and to be able to feel like a valued human.”

Eight states and multiple municipalities across the country have approved the CROWN Act so far.

Erika George, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, testified during the bill’s hearing in February.

“I think it didn’t pass in part because there were members of that committee that were not in a position to fully appreciate the nature of the injury, the importance of the issue and there’s more education that needs to occur,” George said during Thursday’s panel discussion.

Wendy Greene, a law professor at Drexel University, founded the #FreeTheHair movement. She said creating more awareness about hair discrimination, through art and education, will help dismantle negative stereotypes around diverse hairstyles.

“The ultimate goal is to secure legal, social, policy [and] personal change, so that African descendants around the world can freely rock our natural hair,” Greene said. “So we can say that all hair is good hair.”

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored the CROWN Act this year. He said he plans to support it again in 2022.

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