This week, New York City will take the necessary — and overdue — step of codifying mistreatment based on hair texture or style as racially discriminatory, reports the New York Times. The law specifically ensures protection for Black New Yorkers, who are often targeted at work and in schools, from facing disciplinary actions based on hair. Black Americans have long experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and education because of how they choose to wear their hair.
The new wording of the law adds to the city’s existing ordinances against discrimination based on protected class. It was written by the New York City Commission on Human Rights as an extension of the statue banning racial discrimination. Under the new guidelines, the commission explains that hairstyle and texture are part and parcel of racial expression — including “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.”
This anti-discriminatory principle already applies to religious hairstyles, such as male Orthodox Jewish payots, so the wording is intended to allow for hairstyle protection on racial grounds.
It also provides victims of such discrimination with recourse in civil court. Plaintiffs can receive monetary damages based on hair discrimination, and the defendants can also be fined.
Carmelyn P. Malalis, chairwoman of the commission, told the Times, “There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people. They are based on racist standards of appearance…[they are] racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”
Those who work in food service or other professions that mandate covered hair must still wear the appropriate gear, as long as the employer’s regulations are applied to every employee.