Utah Senator Criticizes ‘Inappropriate’ Remarks at Racial Hair Discrimination Hearing


Senator Derrin Owens told several black women that “you people are beautiful”.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) The State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, November 12, 2020.

A Utah legislature is overwhelmed by the fact that on Tuesday he told several black women that “you are beautiful people” and for many other remarks he made during a committee hearing on a proposal to prevent racial hair discrimination.

Several black women have testified about the harms that race-based grooming policies can cause, saying that people should not suffer a loss of economic or educational opportunities simply because they choose a natural hairstyle.

However, according to State Senator Derrin Owens, he believes that society is already moving in the right direction without the need for legal changes in the SB80 – the bill would add “protective hairstyles” such as cords, locks, afro, the curls and bolts. to define the species and prohibits discrimination on the basis of employment.

“You people are beautiful,” Owens, R-Fountain Green, told several black women who spoke in favor of a proposal known as the CROWN Act.

The state senator then attempted to show the other members of the committee a photograph he had taken of two black children he had recently met at a grocery store. Owens said he befriended the two children who ran up and down the hallway while their father tried to investigate.

“I don’t usually take photos of kids, but they were adorable, two black kids,” the Fountain Green Republican said. “Because they’re just the cutest kids in the world.” One has cornrows and the other has dreadlocks. I wish you could see this.

The Alliance for Better Utah, an advanced government oversight group, quickly condemned the comments, calling them “inappropriate and offensive.”

“We are here on the ninth day of Black History Month and will learn how little of our elected officials in Utah understand competition and racism,” the association’s spokeswoman Katie Matheson said in a prepared statement. “The purpose of the CROWN Act is to protect against racial hair discrimination. In his comments on the bill, Senator Owens involuntarily illustrated exactly why Utah needed such protection. “

In a prepared statement, Owens said his remarks were taken out of context, adding that his intention was to encourage a teenage girl who testified that people threw pencils into her curly hair when they were younger. However, he apologized if his comments turned out to be “offensive”.

“My story about the picture on my phone was about being kind to each other,” Owens continued. “I helped a father whose two beautiful, crazy little kids were playing in the grocery store while he checked out.”

In order to interest the kids, Owens said he took out his phone to show them a photo of the cows. They want to see a photo of themselves on their phone, “that’s why I photographed them posing,” he said. The children’s father thanked him for helping.

“I encourage individuals to listen to and consider the context of the story instead of attacking,” he concluded.

The hearing on the bill ended with an equal vote, with Owens and another Republican senator opposing the proposal and supported by two democratic lawmakers. The chairman of the committee said he would bring back legislation backed by state senator Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, for another hearing when several members of the board were present to break through the stalemate.

Wendy Greene, a law professor at Drexel University and founder of the #FreetheHair campaign, was one of those who argued that Utah needed a CROWN law to ban racial discrimination, which is sometimes baked into standards of workplace care.

“For black women, employer bans on natural hairstyles require them to either cut their hair or comply with what I call a straight hair expectation or commission,” Greene said. “The latter is usually achieved with toxic chemicals, extreme thermoforming, wigs and weaving, which are expensive and time consuming to maintain.”

Alyssha Dairsow, a Curly Me! The founder and managing director of a nonprofit spoke about the messages this hair-based hair discrimination can send to young people, especially in a predominantly white state like Utah. The nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City seeks to empower these children by introducing them to adults of all kinds of professions who wear their hair in a twist, braid, or other natural style.

“The child is empowered to say,‘ Oh, it’s okay to exist in a world, i.e. Utah, where most people don’t look like me. Most teachers don’t look like me. The people in the class don’t look like me. They don’t look like me in the supermarket. “- He told. “And the farther we get from certain parts of Utah, the more isolated these kids are.”

Seven states – including California, Colorado, Washington, New York and Maryland – have already approved a version of the CROWN Act, and several red states are considering it, supporters of the bill said on Tuesday.

But while Senate Ron Winterton, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Labor Services, praised public speakers for presenting new ideas to lawmakers, the Roosevelt Republican eventually joined Owens in voting against the proposal after saying he was a little “shocked” by this competition. -based hair discrimination exists.

“Since I’m with my wife and we see someone with a different lifestyle or a different hairstyle than ours, we need to smile because we have some kids,” Winterton said, adding that her daughter dyed her hair purple at one point. “And so it just came to a new light for me thinking about it, because I never thought of anything.”