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Creating A Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2020

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 21, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

I watched the wrestling video and I hear the stories from a school in Texas or Banana Republic, and I find these things horrible. I don't think you can find any Member in this Chamber who doesn't find racial discrimination to be repugnant and inconsistent with basic standards of human decency.

What Democrats and Republicans also agree on is that using hairstyles as an excuse for engaging in racial discrimination is wrong and is already illegal under Federal civil rights law, and I think that is where we come to a little bit of a disagreement. If a school administrator in Texas can't find title VII, he is not going to find this language in addition to title VII.

In 1973, the Supreme Court held that using a pretextual reason as cover for undertaking an action prohibited by Federal civil rights laws is, nonetheless, a violation of Federal civil rights laws. As early as 1976, Federal courts held that discrimination on the basis of a hairstyle associated with a certain race or national origin may constitute racial discrimination.

Looking at both this bill and the law, it appears to me that the behavior that we are seeking to make illegal is already illegal. However, both at markup and on the floor, our colleagues have made impassioned arguments about why this bill is necessary, even though we all agree that the activity that we are already talking about is already illegal.

That doesn't take anything away from the discrimination or the embarrassment that any of those young men or women have felt in any of those incidents, but I am not sure the bill solves the problem, and that is why I wish the committee had taken time to examine whether the bill is either redundant or necessary.

Our committee should have held a hearing with alleged victims of the sort of discrimination that the Democrats argue this bill is designed to help. Our committee should have had a hearing with some legal scholars and individuals responsible for enforcing our Nation's civil rights laws to determine if this bill will achieve what it is intended to do.

Schools, employers, and other entities covered by Federal civil rights laws can have race-neutral policies that everyone must follow. They can also have race-neutral policies that have a disparate racial impact, and those are the places we need to address.

This is particularly true when the policy is necessary for critical functions of the job. There is a reason firefighters have mustaches but not beards, and that is because you have to wear an SCBA. You can't wear the mask if you have a beard.

Our committee should have examined how this bill would affect the ability of schools, employers, and other entities to maintain such policies. But we never had a hearing; we just had a markup. Chairman Nadler brought this bill straight to markup, and now we are on the floor today without any legislative hearing.

I am not even sure it is a bad idea. But I would like to know if it is not redundant. I would like to know what the unintended consequences are. And there are real reasons why, when you are dealing with civil rights law, particularly on something that has already been agreed on that is illegal--enforcement and legality are two different things, and we just don't know enough about what we are doing or why it is necessary.

So, I would ask that we oppose this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. Speaker, let me indicate that I want to thank the previous speaker for raising his concerns.

I think what I would like to offer to him is that people have been suffering these indignities for decades. Natural hair is coming back. We called it Afros. And anyone who wore an Afro in a certain era knows how they were confronted and looked at. There were vast numbers of people wearing Afros, whether males or females, individuals of African descent. I am a living witness, and we are living witnesses to that.

So I do want to make the point that it is not redundant. I will make this point again. But in 2016, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the EEOC's argument that existing law prohibits hair discrimination as a proxy for race discrimination.

What I did say, as we worked together, Mr. Armstrong--I appreciate his commentary and his leadership--is that we are here to fix things, and here we have that the Eleventh Circuit would not accept that.

So I thank the gentleman for raising the concern, and I think Chairman Nadler looked at this carefully and subcommittee chairpersons looked at this carefully and knew that we had to proceed.

Lee), who is a distinguished senior member on the Appropriations Committee but, more importantly, has, I think, had her own life experience and has fought throughout her life for civil rights, civil justice, and ensuring that the most vulnerable will have a voice.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I will say that the stories we hear, and the things are terrible, but this is a problem of education and not legislation. And it is more than that.

Without having these hearings, without understanding this, without understanding where in our current law that we don't already make this conduct and this pretextual racial conduct illegal, we essentially are saying that we are--I mean, making something illegal twice isn't going to change somebody's mind if it was already illegal once, and I think that is the mistake we are making here. It is not about the conduct and the underlying conduct and those types of things, it is about what we are trying to accomplish, how we are doing it, and the process in which we do it.

The sentiment is there, and I can't disagree with any of these stories, I just don't think this bill solves the problem they are trying to solve. And I don't think we have nearly enough evidence to show that it does. So with that, I would urge my colleagues to vote against this legislation, and I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my good friend from North Dakota, and even my good friend from Ohio. But as I close, let me, first of all, indicate this couldn't be a more important bill. I heard on the floor someone talk about this being redundant.

Whenever we can have civil rights, equal rights, and equality as being redundant, then America is doing the right thing. Whenever we can clarify the 11th Circuit that rejected the EEOC's argument that existing law prohibits hair discrimination as a proxy for race discrimination, whenever we can clarify that--whenever we can save the dignity, the hurt, and sometimes the ruination of people who simply because of the color of their skin and the kind of hair that they have, ruins their life or disallows them from graduating or have a public shedding of their hair for the world to see so that they can support their team.

Whenever we are able to fix that on the floor of the House, I think we should do it.

And I take issue with my good friend from Ohio, we have the legislative Record. We have condemned any violence against law enforcement officers, and we mourn and ensure that the world knows that we are praying for and have indicated our condemnation of the shooting of the two officers in California and wish for their speedy recovery. And, as well, I want to make sure that all those who are shown to have done this are quickly brought to justice. That is in the legislative history.

We also recognize that the issues dealing with Kenosha are unique and, therefore, we are sorry that Tamir Rice did not get the opportunity as a young boy, just as this 17-year-old, who was clearly engaged with white supremacy and white nationalism, came to this place to do harm, which he did. Tamir Rice was just a 12-year-old boy in a park.

So I don't think you can equate the two, and I don't think you can suggest that we are not supposed to respond to domestic terrorism.

So let me indicate, Mr. Speaker, that I do want to thank Mr. Richmond, Ms. Fudge, Ms. Pressley, and as my colleague mentioned, the late John Robert Lewis, who was always looking for good trouble and to do what is right as a cosponsor of this legislation.

H.R. 5309 is an important piece of legislation that will help further ensure that hairstyles and hair extremes commonly associated with a particular race or national origin cannot be used as proxies for race or national origin discrimination.

Such discrimination should already be prohibited by Federal civil rights statutes, but unfortunately some Federal courts have interpreted these statutes so narrowly as to effectively permit using hair discrimination as a proxy for race or national origin discrimination. H.R. 5309 corrects this erroneous interpretation and further extends justice and equality for all.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to put into the Record the plight of two students in the Barbers Hill Independent School District in my State where these two outstanding students, athletes, good academic students, were humiliated because their tradition was to wear dreadlocks, and they were suspended. And one or maybe two of them were not able to walk with their class. Humiliation. Discrimination that never got corrected. So today, for them we correct it. DeAndre Arnold, we correct it. We acknowledge that you deserve your civil rights.

Mr. Speaker, I urge the House to pass H.R. 5309, and I yield back the balance of my time. General Leave