The New York City Commission on Human Rights reportedly plans to classify prejudice based on hair type—at work, school, and in public areas—as a form of racial discrimination.
The New York Times reported on Monday that it had obtained soon-to-be-released Commission guidelines to this effect which, though broadly applicable, specifically address anti-black racism, and New Yorkers’ right to “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.”
For those seeking legal recourse, the commission will reportedly soon be able to enforce damages of up to $250,000, in addition to policy and hiring changes at institutions deemed to be breaking the guidelines.
The guidelines, which are expected to be released later this week, would be the first of their kind, and, according to the Times, “there is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair.” Carmelyn Malalis, the commissioner and chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights told the Times:
“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people. They are based on racist standards of appearances…[and perpetuate] racist stereotypes that say black hairstyles are unprofessional or improper.”
This kind of discrimination can take many forms, including in professional settings, some of which have recently begun to be recognized. Per the Times:
‘There has long been a professional toll for those with certain hairstyles. Almost 18 percent of United States soldiers in active duty are black, but it is only in recent years that the military has dropped its prohibitions on hairstyles associated with black culture. The Marines approved braid, twist and “lock” (usually spelled loc) hairstyles in 2015, with some caveats, and the Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks in 2017.”
Hair discrimination has also persisted in schools, where children as young as six (in the case of a little boy who was turned away last year from the first day of class due to his dreadlocks) have reportedly been disciplined or otherwise targeted and harassed over their hairstyles.