This week, the New York City Commission on Human Rights released new guidelines stating that the targeting of people for the appearance of their hair—at work, school, or in public spaces—is now going to be considered racial discrimination. And while this change in law may apply to anyone in New York City, it is no doubt a remedy for the hair discrimination that Black people so frequently face.
According to The New York Times, the guidelines note that New Yorkers 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.”
These hairstyles tend to be most worn by Black women/femmes, and in many ways these new guidelines are finally offering them some protection from discrimination based on their natural hair texture, which has often led to the loss of jobs and other opportunities.
In 2010, for example, Chastity Jones had a job offer rescinded by Catastrophe Management Systems (CMS) after she refused to cut off her locs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against CMS on Jones’ behalf in 2014, and in 2018, the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court after being dismissed in the lower courts. The U.S. Supreme Court refused Jones’ case. And prior to 2017, Black women who served in the U.S. Army weren’t allowed to wear their natural hair on the job thanks to Army Regulation 670-1, which has since been updated.
Once the new law is put into practice, New York City’s commission can penalize those who are found to be discriminating with a fine of up to $250,000, as well as force the offending institutions to rehire individuals who have been discriminated against and implement internal policy changes. The guidelines were prompted, in part, by investigations that took place as a result of complaints about hair discrimination by employees at two different Bronx establishments.
Many people are lauding New York City for instituting a law that is believed to be the first of its kind in this country. But there is still no federal mandate that protects individuals from being harassed, punished, demoted, or fired for the natural appearance of their hair.
Responses on social media have been a mix of praise, calls for the law to be implemented on a more widespread basis, and disbelief that a law like this is necessary in 2019.
One Twitter user said, “Hair plays an important role in many religions and cultures, so any progressive steps such as this in NYC are very welcome. It gives dignity and respect to diversity.” Another wrote, “It’s insane that this is actually a thing that needs to be fought against in 2019.”
Hopefully, this law will instituted throughout the country—sooner rather than later.