New York, NY — Discrimination against someone based on their hair has been officially banned in NYC after city officials unveiled new guidelines on Monday that make it illegal. While it applies to anyone in the city, it especially protects Black people who are often the target of racial discrimination for their natural hair styles.
The guidelines, which is considered to be the first such measure in the US, made it clear that the existing New York City Human Rights Law gives the citizens the right to style their hair in accordance with their cultural, ethnic, or racial identity. It specifically noted Black people’s right to wear “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
The new guidelines will ban employers, schools, and housing providers in the city to fire or exclude people based on their hairstyle. It also applies in the city’s public spaces including restaurants, clubs, libraries, and parks. It does not, however, cover the companies who specifically require all their employees, no matter what race, to wear hair nets or have their hair tied up for sanitation and safety purposes, such as chefs and surgeons.
Chirlane McCray, New York’s first lady, agreed with the guidelines and thought it is significant because “bias against the curly textured hair of people of African descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination,” she said in a statement.
Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn Malalis mirrored her thoughts. She told BuzzFeed News, “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. They really fail to consider the toll these bans take on black identity.”
Malalis said recent reports about students and employees who were having a hard time because of their natural hair helped make the new guidelines come to fruition. She particularly highlighted the case of a Black high school athlete from New Jersey who was reportedly forced to cut off his locks minutes before the match or he would be disqualified.
“I think I had the same visceral reaction that a lot of people did,” the commissioner said. “[I was] horrified that somebody would be forced to change something so possibly central to their identity in order to participate in a sports activity.”
Moreover, the commission is currently investigating seven different cases wherein people are allegedly discriminated against because of their hair.