New Yorkers can no longer be forced to have “professional” hair — whatever that means.
They now have the legal right to wear their locks in locs — or au naturale, or styled in afros, cornrows, dreadlocks, twists, braids, Bantu knots and other ‘dos at work, in school, as well as in fitness clubs and nightclubs, under new regulations issued by the New York City Commission on Human Rights on Monday.
And any grooming or appearance policies that ban natural hair or hairstyles can be subject to a $250,000 fine.
The new guidelines are believed to be the first in the U.S. to highlight the hair discrimination and the bias against natural and textured hairstyles that disproportionately affects black people. The Marines approved braid, twist and “lock” (often spelled loc) hairstyles in 2015, and the Army reversed its ban on cornrows and dreadlocks for women in 2017.
“Such policies are rooted in and perpetuate racist notions of what is considered ‘professional’ or ‘appropriate’ in the workplace and public spaces and are violations of the NYC Human Rights Law,” the NYC Commission on Human Rights explained in its press release. The commission is also investigating seven cases involving discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles, which include black employees “being forced to wear their braided hair up when employees of other ethnicities can wear their long styles down; being fired for wearing her natural hair down; and being told that locs are unacceptable and unclean, and being forced to change her hair as a condition of employment.”
This comes after several high-profile cases of students being sent home from school or disciplined for their hair that have sparked nationwide outrage.
A 6-year-old in Hewitt, Texas was ordered to cut his locs over winter break before being allowed to return to school last month. His mother, writer T.L. Browning, shared the letter sent by Spring Valley Elementary School on Twitter, asking, “How does his hair affect his ability to learn?”
Last August, Clinton Stanley and his 6-year-old son Clinton Jr. were turned away from an Apopka, Fla. private school on the first grader’s first day because the boy was wearing dreadlocks. “If a kid has dreadlocks, that’s your personal standard,” Stanley told his local WESH 2 News station. “Meaning, that’s a personal problem you haven’t overcome, because 95% of the kids who have dreadlocks are African American.”
Former Jackson, Miss. news anchor Brittany Noble Jones has alleged that she was fired from her local news station last year after she began going on the air more often with her natural hair; she was told that Nexstar Broadcasting’s company policy stated that talent could not have “shaggy, unkempt” hair on the air. (The network told “Today” that it “vigorously denied” the accusations, and that Jones was axed over excessive absenteeism.)
And last fall, a woman working at LA Fitness in Sidell, La. claimed she was fired over her hair — a supervisor allegedly sent her a text stating that her hair did not “meet LA Fitness standards in a fro,” adding, “we want a classy appearance.”
NFL player Colin Kaepernick has been called out for his afro, as well as for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the treatment of minorities in the U.S. Michael Vick suggested that Kaepernick “cut his hair” and “try to be presentable” if he wants to ever get signed with another NFL team.
Former “Fox News” host Bill O’Reilly was criticized in 2017 after saying he wasn’t listening to Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters of California because of her hair. “I was looking at the James Brown wig,” he said.
And in 2015, former “Fashion Police” host Giuliana Rancic was slammed for saying that the dreads Zendaya, then 18, wore to the Oscars probably smelled of “patchouli” and “weed.”
“Policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism;’ they are about limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings,” said NYC Human Rights Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis in a written statement. “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.”
NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray added on Twitter that, “Bias against the curly textured hair of people of African descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination.”
One in five black women told the Perception Institute that they feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work; twice as many as white women. What’s more, a majority of participants in the 2017 study, regardless of race, showed implicit bias against textured hair. Black women in the study also reported suffering more anxiety around their hair, and they spent more on hair care and styling products than white women did. In fact, Nielsen reported last fall that black consumers spent $473 million on hair care.
But despite black shoppers’ spending power, the Perception Institute noted that bias against their hair is still strong. For example, hair products servicing natural and textured hair are often housed in the “ethnic” section of stores, while those for straight and smooth hair are stocked in the “beauty” section.
But the natural hair movement continues to grow. Hair relaxer sales plummeted 38% between 2012 and 2017, according to market research firm Mintel. Half of black women (51%) also told the 2018 Mintel report that their current hairstyle makes them feel beautiful, and 40% said they are most likely to wear their hair naturally, with no chemicals or heat styling.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama, who wore her hair straight throughout her eight years in the White House, also appeared on the cover of Essence magazine last year wearing her natural curls.
I expect lots of complaining about "PC going too far" from people who have only read the headline.