Shutting the Door on Backdoor Discrimination

EDIT: Since publication, LC 175 has been named HB 4107

The most basic understanding of discrimination is straightforward: treating a person or group differently and worse because of who they are is discrimination. For example, “I won’t promote you because you are black” is direct discrimination. Discrimination is not always direct. Excluding groups based on racially-specific characteristics or demographics is indirect, or backdoor, discrimination. “I won’t promote you because you have dreadlocks” discriminates against the same group resulting in the same harm.

Recent headlines reveal workplaces and schools discriminating against workers and students wearing certain racially-specific hairstyles. Dreadlocks, box braids, cornrows, afros, and other protective or natural styles have been the basis of discrimination. This discrimination is racism in action. As an injury to one is an injury to all, we will not tolerate racism in our workplaces or communities.

The Nondiscrimination Act of 2020, LC 175 in Oregon’s Legislature, addresses this backdoor discrimination by prohibiting discrimination based on the physical characteristics and hair styles associated with certain communities. The measure provides relief when discrimination is based on a person wearing racially-specific hairstyles. Under this measure students cannot be required to cut their natural hair to participate in student activities.

Addressing cash discrimination is the second piece of LC 175. People of color are up to five times more likely to be “unbanked”, meaning these communities are more likely to be turned away from no-cash allowed establishments. Preventing certain businesses from turning people away solely because they pay in cash ensures those paying with cash have the same access to stores and restaurants as the people paying with debit or credit cards. 

We stand in solidarity with all working families. This bill is just one step in our fight to make our workplaces, schools, and communities fair for everyone. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right”. Now is the time to shut the door on backdoor discrimination.