Black Hair is Beautiful… and Now Protected By Groundbreaking New York City Legislation

The New York City Commission on Human Rights will be announcing legislation this week that prohibits discrimination of people based on their hairdos. This can include discrimination that takes place at work, at nightclubs, at cultural institutions like museums, or in schools. This groundbreaking piece of legislation was drafted specifically to counter racial discrimination against people who style their hair in “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state,” as well as people who opt not to relax their hair and wear it in its natural state.

Individuals who punish, fire, harass, or reject people based on their hairstyles can now be fined up to $250,000 for racial discrimination, not including additional penalties for any damages. Following a discriminatory incident, the Commission on Human Rights can also require an institution to make adjustments to their programs, rules, or guidelines in order to reflect these changes. The Wall Street Journal included a PSA image in their coverage announcing the new legislation. “Hair is a part of you,” reads the image, featuring three people of color who are wearing their preferred hairstyles. “Race discrimination based on hair is illegal.”

The New York Times describes these new guidelines as “the first of their kind in the country,” finally acknowledging that how one styles one’s hair is a matter of human rights as it is strongly rooted in a person’s identity and culture. Carmelyn P. Malalis, the New York City Commission on Human Rights chair and commissioner, explained to the Times that discriminatory practices based on hairstyles often perpetuate “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

The publication cited the case of Chastity Jones who lost out on a job offer because she refused to cut off her dreads. She did not ultimately win the case, with the court ruling that regulations on hair are not inherently racist and therefore permissible because hairstyles are a cultural practice rather than an immutable characteristic; this ruling overlooks the fact that non-African hairstyles are held up as the norm, which in itself smacks of deep-seated racism.

Braids Hair Discrimation

New York City’s Chirlane McCray added her voice to the conversation. “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 McCray in a statement released this week. McCray, the first lady of New York City, is black and styles her hair however she pleases. “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.”

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