New York City Just Made Natural Hair Discrimination Illegal

Published on February 21, 2019

Some good news for black history month; New York City has just made it illegal for employers to discrimiate agianst its workers for having natural hair. Many movements in recent years have called upon employers for having strict guidelines regarding how people of color wear their natural hair. In the past, employees with natural hair have been forced to wear it a certain way or not at all. Now, employers won’t be able to dictate whether or not someone wears their hair in braids, according to a new law.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights banned discrimination on hair on Monday, February 18. The new guidelines state that New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair in a way that aligns with their racial or cultural identity of they please. The law protects everyone, but it was specifically made with black people in mind. Not having laws on hair discrimination was and still very much is a form of racial discrimination today. Employers were able to make decisions on behalf of their employees based on their appearance. Up until now, NYC employers could dicate how an employee wore their hair.

Behind The Decision

“In New York City, we want to make the bold statement that these prohibitions on hairstyles that are closely associated with black people are a form of race discrimination,” said Carmelyn Malalis, the Human Rights Commisioner and Chair in an interview with Buzzfeed News. The new law was created to specifically target racial predjudice in the workforce. Anyone who experiences this type of descrimination can now file a complaint with the City Commission. Employers found guilty of this type of discrimination may face a penalty of up to $250,000 in fines. It may not end racial predjudice against hair in the workforce, but it’s certainly the right step toward combating it.

Many employees with natural hair are subject to unfair treatment because of it. Employees are often told how they can or cannot wear their hair under the guise that these standards are to promote cleanliness. Meanwhile, their white coworkers are seldom told the same thing. Even white coworkers with dreadlocks—hairstyles that are often the target of hair discrimination—are able to continue to wear their hair as they please. This new law is a massive step toward equality in the workforce, but there are still major strides to be taken.

Hair History

Natural hair has always been the target of discrimination, and not just in the workforce. Authors and activists have discussed how natural hair has been unfairly looked at for decades now. Just read a few chapters into The Autobiography of Malcolm X. You’ll see how hair has played a massive role in racial discrimination for decades. Even today, stories pop up almost weekly about a black child having to cut his or her hair. A recent story showed a high school wrestling coach forcing a black student to cut his hair on the spot. The outrage over the situation saw a massive public outcry. Those situations are, unfortunately, more common than they seem.

Now, New York City is looking to aid in the decriminialization of how hair is portrayed. Laws like these are essential to movements like Black Lives Matter. Which call for a change to how people of color are unfairly targeted by law enforcement. The new law goes into effect immediately. Those who feel that they’ve been a target of racial discrimination based on their hair can report it.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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