On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council voted 5-0 to amend its discrimination ordinance to include protection from discrimination for wearing a list of natural or protective hairstyles.
The discrimination ordinance makes it illegal to discriminate against an individual who is wearing a “protective style” in employment, public establishments and housing accommodations.
The ordinance defines, but does not limit, “protective hairstyles” as braids, afros, bantu knots, cornrows, curls, locs, twists, or hair that is tightly coiled or tightly curled.
Since 2019, there has been a movement across the country to outlaw race-based hair discrimination. Called CROWN Acts, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” the bills work to make it illegal to deny a person employment and educational opportunities because of an individual’s hair texture or protective hairstyles.
The CROWN Act seeks to address the pervasive issue of hair discrimination, recognizing that such bias is deeply rooted in systemic racism and cultural misconceptions. By passing these bills, elected officials are eliminating these injustices, ensuring equal rights for Black and other residents of color, and allowing them to contribute to the region’s economic vitality.
So far, 23 states have passed bills outlawing race-based hair discrimination. Neither Kansas or Missouri have passed CROWN Acts. Kansas City and St. Louis are the only two cities in Missouri to pass CROWN Acts.
Wichita is the second City in Kansas to pass a CROWN Act law. Lawrence, KS passed a race-based hair discrimination ordinance earlier this year.
In both Kansas and Missouri, Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women, have been actively involved in the passage of race-based hair discrimination ordinances. Michele Watley, founder and president of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, along with Professor Doris “Wendy” Greene, the original architect of the national CROWN Act legislation, helped draft the language for the Wichita ordinance. Watley testified about the impact hair discrimination has on African Americans.
“We are thrilled to see Mayor Whipple and Wichita city council members taking a bold step forward in recognizing the value of diversity,” said Watley. “Where state-elected leaders have been slow to act, local leaders closely connected to the community have stepped in to lead. This highlights the importance of local government, and we applaud local leaders like Mayor Whipple who listen to the community and take steps to create change.”
Kansas Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, who has filed a CROWN Act bill in every Kansas Legislative session since 2020, testified in support of passage of the Wichita ordinance.
“I am about human rights and equal rights for all people. If we are not offending anyone else personally, financially or with bodily harm, I think that we should all be supportive of allowing people to be themselves and to allow people to wear their hair naturally, the way that it grows out of their head,” said Faust-Goudeau during her testimony at Tuesday’s Wichita city council session.
Despite continually introducing CROWN Acts in the legislature, Faust-Goudeau’s bills have never been advanced to a vote by the state’s Republican controlled legislature.
“I think that with the passage in other states, particularly here in Lawrence, I am hoping today we will do that here in the city of Wichita because it will help ensure passage of the legislation in the Kansas legislature,” Faust-Goudeau said.
“We’re discriminating against our young Black men and women, but what we are also doing is robbing them; we are robbing them of the ability to be themselves and live their dreams. They are breaking no laws,” said James E. Barfield, President of Kansas Advocates for Racial Justice and Equality in his testimony before the Wichita City Council. “We are taking away their rights, we are taking away their self-worth, and we are making them feel like criminals. Let’s not criminalize someone because of a hairstyle.”
The bill will not become law until it is voted on and passed on a second reading. Two members of the Wichita City Council were not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting: Jeff Blubaugh and Bryan Frye. Those in attendance unanimously supported the legislation.
Impact of the bill’s passage.
Protection Against Hair Discrimination: The Act now prohibits employers, public establishments and housing accommodations in Wichita from engaging in hair discrimination, ensuring that Black people, people of color and others can express themselves through their natural hair without fear of bias or retribution.
Building a Diverse, Highly Trained Workforce: The Wichita region is renowned for its skilled workforce. The CROWN Act enhances diversity within the workforce by eliminating discriminatory barriers based on natural hair, enabling the region to attract and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds.
Attracting a Diverse Workforce: By championing inclusivity and equality, Wichita becomes an attractive destination for professionals from various industries, enriching the region’s talent pool and driving economic growth.