Hairstyle discrimination illegal under existing law, Commission on Human Rights says

New York City Commission on Human Rights advisory warned against racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles. Photo Credit: New York City Commission on Human Rights

“Race discrimination based on hair is illegal in NYC,” HRC Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis said.

New York City Commission on Human Rights advisory warned against racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles.
New York City Commission on Human Rights advisory warned against racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

The city’s Commission on Human Rights issued legal guidance on Monday warning against discrimination on the basis of hair. 

The commission’s report outlined that racism against black people can often include discrimination against "natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities."

The report said the city’s laws protects people who want to wear their hair any way, including "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."

The new guidance follows complaints from workers at a medical facility as well as a nonprofit in the Bronx, an Upper East Side hair salon, and a restaurant in Howard Beach, The New York Times reported.

“There’s nothing keeping us from calling out these policies prohibiting natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with black people,” Carmelyn P. Malalis, the commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, told The New York Times. "They are based on racist standards of appearance."

The report said that while an employer, for example, can require employees to dress work-appropriate, they cannot enforce any policy in a "discriminatory manner and/or target specific hair textures or hairstyles."

"Therefore, a grooming policy to maintain a ‘neat and orderly’ appearance that prohibits locs or cornrows is discriminatory against Black people because it presumes that these hairstyles, which are commonly associated with Black people, are inherently messy or disorderly," the report continues. "This type of policy is also rooted in racially discriminatory stereotypes about Black people, and racial stereotyping is unlawful discrimination under the [New York City Human Rights Law]."

Malalis said in a tweet on Monday that "Hair is a part of you. Race discrimination based on hair is illegal in NYC." The tweet included a photo of former President Barack Obama allowing a small boy to touch his hair in the Oval Office.

Alison Fox