Discrimination and “The Politics of Hair”

Jehan Gordon-Booth

Ill. Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth talks about her video storytelling campaign “The Politics of Hair.” Also on a panel with her Saturday was ACLU attorney Ghirlandi Guidetti, NAACP representative Sherry Cannon, and Kim Trueblood with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Moderator was Jim Bennett, director of the Department of Human Rights. The event was a roundtable discussion on the state of human rights in Illinois hosted by the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

“The Politics of Hair” is a storytelling campaign planned by Ill. Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth to highlight the discrimination African-Americans experience due to hairstyles including natural, braids and dreadlocks.

Many people in America who deny racism still exists need to hear these stories, Gordon-Booth said Saturday at a forum sponsored by the Illinois Department of Human Rights held at the Labor Temple, 400 NE Jefferson St.

The storytelling campaign is designed to build support for Gordon-Booth’s legislation, HB 3884, that will amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to include traits historically associated with races such as hair texture and styles.

Similar legislation, called the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) has been enacted in California, New Jersey and New York and a bill has been introduced in Congress.

Gordon-Booth said Kim Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot each have stories to tell.

Gordon-Booth has her own stories. One recounts her mother who was a prominent community organizer in Peoria who early in her career learned that to succeed in a society with implicit, systemic racism, she had to perm her natural hair. Her mother had to take high blood pressure medication that made her scalp sensitive to the chemicals used in hair perms. She ultimately decided to forego the blood pressure medicine in order to tolerate the perms, and she died shortly after that.

Gordon-Booth expects the campaign will include the stories of many ordinary people recounting the discrimination they have experienced based on hair.

Also on the forum panel Saturday was Kim Trueblood with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. She told about her father who, like many African American men, had skin irritation from shaving. To avoid the skin irritation, he grew a beard but always kept it short, trimmed and professional. Yet, even as a very successful salesman, he was told to get rid of the beard or be fired.

Gordon-Booth said she does not plan to call her bill for a vote until toward the end of the legislative session so her statewide storytelling campaign can get underway.

Recent examples of discrimination that garnered headlines included a high school wrestler in New Jersey who was ordered by a referee to cut his dreadlocks or be barred from a match. The young man allowed his hair to be cut. The referee was later fired by the school district. In another example, a young man was told he could not walk across the stage for his high school graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks.

See column by Dr. Daniel McCloud in the February issue of Community Word about hair discrimination and the CROWN Act:



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