Bantu knots, twists, cornrows, afros… did you know that it’s been technically legal to fire someone, not offer them a job, or, as we found out recently, force someone to cut their hair to compete, based solely on the way they choose to wear their hair? Now, in a move to protect those who’ve been felt these effects—primarily black Americans—New York City is banning discrimination based on hairstyles.
Just last Monday, the New York City commission on human rights made it so New Yorkers can wear their hair however they please, per new regulations, making any discrimination they might face now illegal. In December 2018, just a few months ago, Buena Regional high school wrestler, Andrew Johnson of New Jersey, was coerced into cutting his dreadlocks in order to compete. The coercive haircut shocked many, and may have lit an urgent fire underneath lawmakers and equal rights activists.
The commission now protects all hairstyles, and calls for protection of black hair specifically. NYC Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis stated:
“Bans or restrictions on natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people are often rooted in white standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional…There is a widespread and fundamentally racist belief that black hairstyles are not suited for formal settings, and may be unhygienic, messy, disruptive, or unkempt.”
Malalis continued, “This new legal enforcement guidance will help school administrators, employers, and providers of public accommodations to understand that Black New Yorkers have the right to wear their hair however they choose without fear of stigma or retaliation. We’re excited to take this step because every New Yorker deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect that the City Human Rights Law is designed to ensure.”
Those infringing upon other New Yorkers’ rights to wear their hair how they please may be punished by fines of up to $250,000.