I am 52 years old. I am not as woke as the up and coming generations, for the most part.
I have been aware of race for as long as I can remember. Growing up in an Irish-Italian Catholic home in Town Plot, we were surrounded by people like us. But my Dad coached basketball at Crosby High School in the 70s, and I was surrounded by Black teenagers from when I could walk and attend practices and games with my Dad.
Those guys, my childhood heroes, looked different from me but they were like part of our family. I remember driving with my Dad to pick them up for practice on snow days. Those guys would tease me and my brother, but I could tell they cared about my family and I knew my family cared about them.
I usually felt comfortable around the players, but I remember language about race throughout my childhood. There were biases and prejudices, but they were not my living experience.
Ultimately, because of my reverence for those players and those teams, I decided to attend Crosby High School because I wanted to be part of a wider community. I could have gone elsewhere. I chose Crosby. I count it as one of the three best decisions I have made in my life. The other two are choosing my wife and getting a dog.
I think those early experiences are probably a big reason why my legal career brought me into an area where I challenge discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination never made sense to me. My experience was narrow, but those players could do things athletically that I knew I would never be able to do. Why would we ever want to diminish such greatness because of skin color. It didn’t make sense to me.
That’s my background. If you grew up in Waterbury, yours might be similar.
Despite my experiences, I will never understand the difficulties that my friends and classmates have gone through when it comes to addressing racial issues.
Connecticut has a very robust anti-discrimination statute known as the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. It is even stronger than federal legislation. Connecticut has always been at front of trying to ensure equity among its residents. It is still a battle, but I think we try hard in this state.
Last week, the General Assembly passed the Crown Act, and Governor Lamont signed it into law. CROWN is an acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. The law has arisen out of the ways that some employers discriminate against employees of color based on hairstyle. In my 52 years, I had never heard of such a thing, but it has been a thing.
Those who testified in support of the bill talked about being judged based on hairstyle. One witness said that “I take pride in wearing my natural hair, especially when it is styled in an afro. My natural hair is a statement of me being bold and comfortable in whom I am as an individual. I should not have to alter the texture of my hair for it to fit into what is considered professional and acceptable to society and the workplace.”
The new law adds protections against discrimination on the basis to ensure that ethnic traits including hair texture and protective hair styles are not used as a basis for employment decisions. I have always believed that discrimination can only be erased with knowledge and understanding and that it will occur incrementally. The CROWN Act is a step in the right direction.