NYC to ban harassment, discrimination based on hairstyle

New York City will soon ban hair-based discrimination in a first-of-its-kind policy, according to The New York Times.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights is expected to issue new guidelines this week that would consider harassment or discrimination based on hair or hairstyle to be a form of racial discrimination.

The guidelines reportedly point specifically to traditionally African-American hairstyles, including “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.”

Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the human rights commission, told the Times that the guidelines are intended as a check on business and employer policies banning certain hairstyles, which she says are “based on racist standards of appearance.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” she said, adding that such policies push “racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”

The new policy would reportedly allow the commission to fine perpetrators of hair-based discrimination $250,000, with no cap on damages. The commission would also have the power to force employers to change policies.

The guidelines do not conflict with hair-related health and safety policies, such as covering hair in a kitchen, according to the Times.

The New York policy comes amid a refreshed national conversation on racial discrimination that is often linked to hairstyle. In December, a New Jersey referee sparked massive outcry after forcing a student athlete to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a school wrestling match.

A number of New Yorkers interviewed by the Times said they quit their jobs or changed hairstyles after criticism from their supervisors that they felt was unfairly applied to them and not their white colleagues.

The U.S. Navy announced changes to its hairstyle policies last July, saying female sailors can now wear dreadlocks, ponytails and styled buns, one year after the U.S. Army lifted a ban on dreadlocks.