The days of straightening your hair or removing your braids before an interview are officially over. New York City just released their new anti-hair discrimination guidelines that will prohibit schools and employers from denying opportunities to others based on the style of their hair. This is a monumental moment for people of color everywhere who’ve lived in fear that their natural hair had to be altered to fit in a professional setting.
The very powerful guideline accurately depicts the experience most people of color have and how they’re experienced in the world. The legal guidance begins with, “Anti-Black racism is an invidious and persistent form of discrimination across the nation and in New York City. Anti-Black racism can be explicit and implicit, individual and structural, and it can manifest through entrenched stereotypes and biases, conscious and unconscious. Anti-Black bias also includes discrimination based on characteristics and cultural practices associated with being Black, including prohibitions on natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people.1 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. Such policies exacerbate anti-Black bias in employment, at school, while playing sports, and in other areas of daily living.”
While it is sad that we live in a time where something like this has to be put into place, I am thankful that it happened. Over the last couple of years we’ve watched school children be refused from attending school, participating in special sports activities and people being told that they’d have to change their hair to complete their work. This kind of behavior teaches children that there is something wrong with their natural hair. We want to change the narrative from self-hate to self-love.
Now, cases of discrimination can be met with legal action if they refuse someone’s rights or privilege because of their hair style. These small victories remind me of what it may have felt like when people of color slowly earned normalized rights like co-existing in the same space as a white person. In 2019, we are still fighting to have the same privilege as our white counterparts. Kudos to New York City for taking a stand for us but what about the rest of America? There are countless cases about people of color being fired from work or discriminated against in school because of their hairstyles. Just last April, a black woman was let go from her job because she refused to cut her loccs. When she took the employer to court, she learned that federal law protects people from discrimination based on immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practices, thus losing her case.
New York may have won this battle, but we’re still fighting the war for equality.