LA Legislators File Bills to Address Racial Discrimination in the Black Community


Recently, several Louisiana legislators have filed eyebrow-raising legislation to include a bill that could make it illegal to teach about racism and sexism as well as bills that threaten health care for transgender people. To counter the series of regressive legislation filed by Republican legislators, four Democratic legislators and one Republican legislator have filed a series of bills that would address disparities related to gender and race.

When the White House issued a proclamation for Black Maternal Health Week, President Biden noted that Black American mothers die from pregnancy-related complications at two to three times the rates of White, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women, no matter what their income or education levels. 

These higher rates of maternal mortality and other adverse birth outcomes among Black women have increased interest in models of care that can improve outcomes, especially in the quality and differential care experienced by women of color. Women who feel marginalized in mainstream medical systems may find the presence of community-based health care advocates like midwives and doulas to be especially beneficial. 

Midwives provide an array of economical health care services including gynecological examinations, contraceptive counseling, prescriptions, and labor and delivery care. The Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative has shown that lower rates of cesarean birth, lower rates of labor induction, reduction of perineal tears, lower use of anesthesia and higher rates of breastfeeding are just some of the additional benefits of midwifery-led care

There are two bills to address some of these issues in Louisiana. Representative Barry Ivey’s HB 495 addresses the removal of Collaborative Practice Agreement requirements to allow full practice authority for advance practice registered nurses (including certified midwives). Representative Matthew Willard’s HB 190 goes further than simply addressing certification to increase access to doula/midwife care.

Representative Willard says, “When compared to other states, Louisiana has high rates of maternal and infant mortality, caesarean sections, low birthweight babies, and other unacceptable statistics. The outcomes are much worse for pregnant and postpartum Black women. HB 190 would require all healthcare plans in Louisiana that already provide coverage for maternity services to also cover the cost of midwifery and doula care. Much research shows that access to this type of care improves birthing outcomes. My hope is that this bill will lead to safer and healthier birthing experiences for our mothers and babies.”

On the issue of addressing racial disparities in treatment is the efforts to end the discrimination of natural hair. For too many Black women, natural black hair and protective styles are not regarded as professional in the workplace forcing them to either adopt Eurocentric standards of appearance or face discrimination in the workplace, schools and other public places.

The CROWN Act is a proposed federal law that would prohibit race-based hair discrimination. It was reintroduced in the House of Representatives in March of this year and would end the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or Bantu knots.

Here in Louisiana, Representative Candace Newell has introduced HB 382 to ban racial discrimination based on natural hair styles and other characteristics including afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, and curls. Her bill would insert language into statutes addressing education, employment, public accommodations and housing opportunities. 

Representative Newell says, “The Crown Act – Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair is important to me first and foremost, because I wear my hair natural. I stopped relaxing my hair 12 years ago. I learned to embrace the natural curl pattern of my hair and accept all that makes me unique!” She continues, “Some workplaces and public schools don’t allow textured hair and protective styles. In fact, research found that 80% of Black women believe they have to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. Black people should not have to make a decision to dissociate themselves from their racial cultural identity by changing their natural hair in order to adapt to their workplace or school.” 

Two other bills have also been filed to address discrimination of natural hair styles in employment. These are SB 61 by state Senator Troy Carter and House Bill 189 by Representative Tammy Phelps.

While all people experience pressure to conform to certain standards of appearance, society’s bias against natural hairstyles perpetuates the racist stereotype of Black hair being unprofessional. Black women should no longer be unfairly impacted by corporate grooming policies which deny them opportunities and advancement. Black children should not have to manipulate their appearance to be accepted or to achieve their educational goals, and Black mothers should not be marginalized by the medical establishment that tends to ignore life-threatening pregnancy complications. Taken together, passage of these bills would begin to address the impact of systemic racism and gender bias in our state. 


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