New York City is on its way to becoming one of the first cities in the country to recognize “hair regulations” as a discriminatory act against Black Americans. New York City Commission of Human Rights released a set of new guidelines on Monday, February 19, that addresses the issue of anti-black racism within the workplace throughout the metropolitan area. The guidelines state that Black Americans living in NYC have the protected right to wear the hairstyles they want without any penalty. It’s the first set of legal guidelines that explicitly states that hair regulations are inherently anti-black and that black people have the right to wear their hair as they please in any professional setting.
“NYC Commission on Human Rights Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair” emphasizes and protects the rights for Black Americans living in NYC to “maintain natural hairstyles,” varying from “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.” Many Black Americans face double standards in educational and professional environments due to hairstyles. Black Americans across New York City and the world have been suspended, harassed and punished for decades over individual hair choices. Black hair is deemed “unprofessional” and too “unkempt” in many public spaces including work and school. These oppressive ideas have sparked controversy within many workplaces and schools across America within the past couple of decades. The awareness of black hair being policed in public spaces have led to the creation of these new guidelines.
In 2018, a video of a boy getting his locks cut off by a referee during a New Jersey high school wrestling match went viral. This video is an incident that contributed to the conversation regarding the anti-blackness ingrained into institutions through hair regulations. Whether or not Andrew Johnson, the 16-year-old wrestler, had locks or not didn’t determine his win in the match. The referee was since banned from working with the school district. It is also common for black girls to be suspended from school over their natural hairstyles. In 2018, an 11-year-old black girl named Faith Fennidy received a suspension from her Roman Catholic private school due to her “braided hair extensions.” Her brother explains that the extensions make “the hair easier to maintain.” In 2016, protests arose in South Africa after Malaika Maoh Eyoh, a 17-year-old black girl, got suspended from high school due to her afro hairstyle. Black people across the world deal with the burden of being punished for the hair that grows from their heads. Black hair in any state is prone to be seen as “violations” of rules set by many white-led institutions. This leads to black people being singled out and punished for something that is, in most cases, out of their control.
Recognizing the laws, rules and regulations that were created with the intention to force minorities to assimilate to whiteness under the guise of “professionalism” is the first step to getting rid of such discriminatory guidelines. Anti-blackness is abundant throughout our country and plays a heavy role in our day-to-day lives and in our laws and legislation. Hopefully, New York City will lead the way to hair regulations finally being recognized as inherently wrong and racist on a state and national level.
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