According to the New York Times, the new guidelines released by the New York Commission on Human Rights deems the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle racial discrimination.
Although all races are protected, the language used in the law suggests the aim is to thwart prejudice against Black people, distinctly declaring the right of New Yorkers to wear their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
Violators of the law will face penalties up to $250,000 with no cap on damages. The commission can also enforce internal policy changes and rehirings to companies who are found guilty of harassing, threatening, punishing, firing or demoting employees based on their hair.
The move is profound in that it acknowledges that there is in fact a relationship between cultural identity and hair.
“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, Carmelyn P. Malalis, told the New York Times.
“They are based on racist standards of appearance,” Ms. Malalis continued, adding that they perpetuate “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”
As Black women we’re all too familiar with incidents of Black hair being policed in the workplace, school and beyond.
It’s a phenomenon that has consistently plagued Black people in this country and that we’ve discussed ad nauseum.
From high-profile cases like the Pretoria All-Girl High School incident in which young South African women fought against a school policy that forced them to straighten their hair, to an LA Fitness employee being told and afro “doesn’t fit the standards as recently as September of 2018, it’s clear the issue is one that needed to be addressed.
The new guidelines are set to be released this week, and are thought to be the first of their kind in the country.
We hope this is the beginning of a new way forward.