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Sad that law banning discrimination based on hairstyle is needed

More than 70 years ago, a husband-and-wife team of psychologists conducted experiments about children’s attitudes toward race using dolls that were identical in every way except skin color. Kenneth and Mamie Clark said the tests showed that children of all races and skin colors assigned positive attributes to the white dolls.

Connecticut legislators this week discussed these so-called “doll tests” from the 1940s in noting that too little has changed since the experiments were conducted. Sen. Marilyn Moore, a Bridgeport Democrat, said, indeed, a legislative staffer recently heard from a young woman whose employer admonished her to hide her braids under a hat. Moore and other legislators said the time was beyond ripe to push back against this long history of discrimination based on natural physical attributes such as hairstyles and, as such, passed the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) legislation prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyles historically associated with race.

While the vote deals a blow to discriminatory practices in the state, that such legislation is necessary is itself sad commentary on our contemporary social condition. Yet many legislators of color contend it is necessary, as there exists a long history of oppression and forced assimilation based on hairstyle. Most relevant, they say, instances of such discrimination continue to occur.

Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who is Black and the father of twins, said he considered his daughter when voting for the legislation. Her natural hair could define her in the eyes of a teacher or employer, he said. That is an eventuality he hopes the CROWN Act will help protect her from.

Many Connecticut residents might snicker over passage of the CROWN Act, or at least believe that in 2021 there is no need for it. They believe the days of racial discrimination are long gone. Evidence unfortunately shows us otherwise.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says hate groups have grown considerably in recent years. Locally, the July assault on a hotel clerk in Mystic, an act that was apparently fueled by racist attitudes, was just one piece of disturbing evidence of the persistence of racial animosity even here in southeastern Connecticut.

As Connecticut becomes the most recent state to adopt a law such as the CROWN Act, the best we can hope for is that in another decade, societal attitudes will have changed so dramatically that we will wonder why it was ever enacted. We can only hope the idea of racial discrimination becomes so obscure, future residents will be as confused by the CROWN Act as they now are by the state law mandating pickles must bounce when dropped, or the Hartford ban against crossing the street on your hands.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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