Natural Hair Discrimination? New York City Says Not Anymore, Implements New Laws

by Brianna Moné Williams

February 19, 2019

Photo by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

New York City is taking the steps to ban policies and practices that punish black people due to the texture and style of their hair. The city’s Commission on Human Rights announced it’s releasing new guidelines that equate discrimination against any hairstyle within a workplace, school or public space with racial bias, according to The Root.

Carmelyn Malalis, the Commissioner and Chairwoman of the organization explained why this is important: “One of my favorite photographs of President Barack Obama is him in the Oval Office leaning down to allow 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia to touch his hair, and how powerful a message of affirmation that was. As we were developing the guidance, we had a lot of conversations about the harm that is done to people when they are stigmatized and controlled in regards to who they are and how they move through space.”

The move to make this a reality was prompted by investigations of various businesses in different boroughs of the city — a medical facility in Morris Park, and a nonprofit in Morrisania — as well as workers at an Upper East Side hair salon and a restaurant in the Howard Beach section of Queens.

With the new laws, it will give New Yorkers 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,” reports The New York Times. Also, if someone has experienced discrimination, punishment or harassment due to their mane, they can take legal action.

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people,” said Malalis. “They are based on racist standards of appearance…racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

Those found in violation can face up to $250,000 in penalties, with no cap on damages. The commission could also force policy changes and re-hirings in instances where there was inequality within a company. That would mean justice for people like Brittany Noble-Jones if she worked in the Big Apple. One place the rules wouldn’t apply is with health and safety instructions which may require hair to be worn up or in a net.

Last year, CURLS founder Mahisha Dellinger and Lil Mama talked about how far natural hair has come in society at the 49th NAACP Image Awards and this act is just a testament to that. Watch the full video below:

Hopefully, this will encourage people to not want to hide their hair in fear of being judged or in anticipation of being reprimanded.

TELL US: Do you think this should happen in more areas of the country?

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