The new law protects the right of all New Yorkers to maintain their natural hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation at work, schools or in public places.
The new law protects the right of all New Yorkers to maintain their natural hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation at work, schools or in public places. Photo credit: Flickr

Discrimination based on natural hairstyles, which disproportionately impacts Black people, is now punishable under New York City law. 

The NYC Commission on Human Rights released on Monday new guidelines that define discrimination on the basis of natural hair and hairstyles at work, school or in public spaces like fitness clubs, nightclubs and youth clubs, as racial discrimination.

By issuing the new guidelines, the commission “reaffirms that such policies are rooted in and perpetuate racist notions of what is considered ‘professional’ or ‘appropriate’ and are violations of the NYC Human Rights Law,” the commission stated.

While the new law applies to all New Yorkers, it particularly highlights the unfair treatment of Black people. The guidelines emphasize the right of New Yorkers 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.”

“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 Malalis.

“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.”

The commission further announced that it will investigate and prosecute all instances of racial discrimination based on this legal guidance; the agency can issue penalties up to $250,000 on defendants violating the law, reports the New York Times. The commission can also impose internal policy changes and rehirings at entities in violation of the new guidelines.

Source: NYC.gov

Discrimination on the basis of race in New York City has been illegal for decades, but the new guidelines go further than many U.S. municipalities in protecting the rights of individuals. Officials added that “some courts have narrowly interpreted federal civil rights law to allow this form of discrimination.”

“Courts have been slow to recognize that bias against natural Black hair is a form of race discrimination,” said Ria Tabacco Mar of the ACLU.

“Far too often, Black people are shamed and excluded from jobs or school because of objections to natural hairstyles, but courts have been slow to recognize that bias against natural Black hair is a form of race discrimination,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “New York City has taken an important step toward ensuring that all of us have the freedom to work and learn regardless of how we wear our hair.”

The new guidelines come on the heels of seven discrimination cases that are currently being investigated by the commission. The complaints issued by Black employees include being forced to wear their braided hair up while employees of other ethnicities have faced no such mandate; being fired for wearing their natural hair down or being told that their locs were unacceptable or unclean, and being forced to alter their hairstyle to not lose their job.

“Bias against the curly textured hair of people of African descent is deeply embedded in the messages, spoken and unspoken, that we receive every day,” said First Lady McCray.

“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 First Lady Chirlane McCray. “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. This bias is deeply embedded in the messages, spoken and unspoken, that we receive every day.”

The NYC Human Rights Commission is the city agency charged with enforcing the NYC Human Rights Law, which protects New Yorkers against citywide discrimination based on 24 protected categories. If a resident believes they have been discriminated against based on wearing a natural hairstyle in the workplace, school, or public accommodation they should call 311 and ask for the Commission on Human Rights to get assistance.

To read the NYC Commission on Human Rights Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair, go here.

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Andrea Leonhardt

“Made in Germany,” Andrea Leonhardt is the managing editor for BK Reader. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in American studies and education, and a master’s...

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