February 20, 2019
In the 1960s and 1970s, many black men and women stopped straightening their hair and adopted the “Afro” look—which today we refer to as what it is: “natural hair.”
Now all that has changed. In February, the Big Apple became the first city in the nation to “protect the rights of New Yorkers [under the New York City Human Rights Law] to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities”
Specifically, the New York City Commission of Human Rights said this month, “For black people, this includes the right to maintain 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.”
And that includes on the job, in competitive sports, and in “public places like libraries, gyms, schools, and nightclubs”—where, the Commission rules, “Black people [cannot be forced] to change their natural hair as a requirement to be admitted in or retain affiliation with those settings.”
“Policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism;’ they are about limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces, and other settings,” New York City Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement.
New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray also spoke out about the guidance, saying in a statement, “Bias against the curly textured hair of people of African descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination.”
I a report about the human rights guidance, Good Morning America/ABC News noted that it comes “just two months after controversy erupted when a New Jersey high school wrestler was told to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match. The student’s attorney asked the state’s Division of Civil Rights (DCR) last month to further investigate the “unrelenting fixation on the hair of a 16-year-old young man.”
According to the network news report, New York’s Commission on Human Rights said it is currently investigating seven natural hairstyle discrimination cases that include black people being forced to wear their braided hair up or being fired for wearing their natural hair down.
The commission will be the city agency responsible for enforcing the new legal guidance. Employers found in violation of the guidelines can be fined up to $250,000 and be forced by the commission to make policy changes and rehires, according to The New York Times, which reported the guidance before its public release.
Cheers of applause for the new protections for natural hair circulated on social media with the hashtags #freethehair and #YourHairYourRightNYC.
Research contact: @GMA