New York City just banned discrimination based on hair.
Under first-of-their-kind guidelines released by the city’s Human Rights Commission on Monday, New Yorkers can now seek fines and other solutions if they’ve been harassed or punished at school, work and other public places because of the texture or style of their hair, The New York Times reported.
Moreover, the guidance gives city residents the right to “maintain natural hair or hairstyles” including braids, locs, fades and Afros, that are “closely associated with one’s racial, ethnic or cultural identities.” Commission officials said the protections extend to everyone in New York City, but are specifically aimed at tackling what leaders call “racist stereotypes” about Black hairstyles being unprofessional or improper.
“There is nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” Carmelyn P. Malalis, commissioner and chairwoman of the city’s Human Rights Commission, told the newspaper. “They are based on racist standards of appearance.”
Officials based the new guidance on the argument that hair is an inherent part of one’s race, and is therefore protected under the city’s human rights laws prohibiting religious, gender and race discrimination, among other protections. Those found in violation of the new guidelines can be hit with penalties up to $250,000, and there’s no cap on damages.
But the changes don’t stop there. The New York Times reports that the commission can not only force internal policy changes at offending institutions, but also demand the rehiring of those wrongly fired over their hair.
The guidelines, prompted in part by investigations that followed complaints from workers at two Bronx businesses and restaurant employees on the Upper East Side, comes nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case of a Black woman, Chastity Jones, who saw her job offer rescinded after she refused to cut her dreads.
Hair discrimination has also become an issue at several U.S. schools where cultural hairstyles, including braids and dreads, are often banned under school uniform guidelines. The U.S. military also only recently loosened its restrictions on hairstyles associated with Black culture.