New York City has issued new guidance banning discrimination based on hairstyle.
BuzzFeed News reports the guidance clarifies the existing New York City Human Rights Law, explicitly spelling out New Yorkers have the right to style their hair in ways consistent with their identities.
The ban also contains language meant to help protect Black citizens, noting Black New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair in "locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state."
Employers, educators and gatekeepers of public spaces can now no longer exclude or fire people based on the appearance of their hair.
The only exception to the ban applies to those who must tie up their hair for sanitation and safety purposes, such as chefs and surgeons. The guidance makes it clear employers requiring the restraining of hair for health and safety reasons must demand it of all employees of all ethnicities.
New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, celebrated the policy Monday, saying it was much-needed 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.”
New York City Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn Malalis echoed McCray’s thoughts, telling BuzzFeed News, “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."
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Malalis said recent stories involving students and employees having difficulties due to their hair helped spark the guidance. She specifically mentioned the case of a New Jersey athlete who, as Blavity reported, was forced to cut his dreadlocks before being allowed to compete.
“I think I had the same visceral reaction that a lot of people did," the commission 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."
The New York City Human Rights Commission was also moved to act by multiple complaints coming into its office. Commission officials say they are currently investigating seven allegations of employers targeting employees based on their hair, including one case in which a worker says he was told he’d be fired if he didn’t cut his “unclean” locs.
Brittany Noble-Jones isn’t one of those cases but says she knows how dangerous hair-based discrimination can be. As Blavity reported, the television journalist claims she was fired over her natural hair. She told USA Today the guidance is “huge.”
Noble-Jones was based in Mississippi before being fired from her station; she now operates out of New York City.
“The fact we have been worried about this all these years is one thing, but I’m very excited we can move forward and rock our hair and wear it the way God intended us to wear it,” the journalist said.
"Hair is an incredibly personal thing," she said. "Hair is a part of you, and as such we want to make sure that people can express themselves."
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