In a historic step towards long-overdue equality, targeting people based on their hair or hairstyle – an issue that disproportionately affects black men and women – will now be considered racial discrimination in New York City.
Under new guidelines released by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, appearance and grooming policies that ban natural hairstyles – including locks, cornrows, braids, twists, Bantu knots, fades, and Afros – in public are illegal and punishable by law. In large part intended to combat racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are “unprofessional”, employers are banned from dictating how workers wear their hair, meaning that those who’ve encountered harassment can take legal action, and organizations found to have violated the new guidelines can face penalties of up to $250,000. As first reported by The New York Times, the measure was catalyzed by investigations of employee complaints of discrimination at several businesses across Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.
“Bias against the curly textured hair of people of African descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination,” said New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray in a statement. “There are too many places, from schools to workplaces and beyond, where the idea that the hair that grows on the heads of people of African descent is, in its natural state, not acceptable. That prejudice extends to traditional hairstyles, designed as much for practicality as for beauty, but are seen as undesirable by European standards. This bias is deeply embedded in the messages, spoken and unspoken, that we receive every day.”
Back in January of 2017, the United States Army revised its grooming and appearance regulations, lifting a ban on female soldiers wearing their hair in
“Policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism’; they are about limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces, and other settings,” said NYC Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis. “This new legal enforcement guidance will help school administrators, employers, and providers of public accommodations to understand that black New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation… Every New Yorker deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect that the City Human Rights Law is designed to ensure.”