Black hair (really all hair) will now be protected under new guidelines released by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which will make it illegal to discriminate against or target people because of their hair at work, school or in public spaces.
According to the New York Times, though the guidelines apply to anyone, the change in law is working to rectify the treatment that Black people often face due to their natural hair. In fact, the guidelines – believed to be the first of their kind in the United States – specifically state that residents have the right to maintain 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.”
In terms of health and safety, individuals are still required to follow rules that may require pulling hair up or confining it in a net, as long as those rules apply across the board to everyone.
At any rate, it means that those who have faced harassment or have been threatened or punished (in the workplace or otherwise) due to their hair will be able to take legal action. Institutions found violating the new guidelines in this particular type of racial discrimination can face up to a $250,000 penalty, with no cap on damages, the Times reports. The commission can also enforce changes in internal policy, as well as rehirings of those who may have been terminated.
The new push to protect natural hair was prompted following investigations from workers across various professions including at a medical facility in Morris Park, Bronx, a nonprofit in Morrisania, Bronx, a hair salon in the Upper East Side, as well as a restaurant in Howard Beach, Queens.
“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people,” Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, told the Times.
“They are based on racist standards of appearance,” she added, emphasizing the “racist stereotypes that say Black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”