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Why It Matters That New York City Will Ban Discrimination Based On Hair

Actress Zendaya on the red carpet at the 87th Annual Academy Awards in 2015.
Actress Zendaya on the red carpet at the 87th Annual Academy Awards in 2015.

The New York Times reported this week that “the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle, at work, school or in public spaces, will now be considered racial discrimination” in New York City.

The guidelines, obtained by The New York Times before their public release, are believed to be the first of their kind in the country. They are based on the argument that hair is inherent to one’s race (and can be closely associated with “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities”) and is therefore protected under the city’s human rights laws, which outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion and other protected classes.

Hair and hairstyle are often a topic of tension, often with white authority figures policing the hair of people of color.

Late last year, a wrestler in New Jersey was made to cut his hair in order to compete.

In 2017 The Boston Globe reported that charter school students “who wear their hair in braids are facing detention and suspension by administrators who say the hairstyles violate the school’s dress code. Parents describe the crackdown as racist.”

Last year, the Supreme Court declined to consider a lawsuit brought by Chastity Jones, who said she lost a job offer from an Alabama insurance company in 2010 because she would not cut off her dreadlocks.

Critics of workplace appearance policies often say that these workplace guidelines — or in some cases, bans — are racist.

We’re talking about these new guidelines and telling your stories about hair and the workplace.

Produced by Kathryn Fink.

GUESTS

Brittny Saunders, Deputy commissioner, New York City Commission on Human Rights; @MsBSaunders

Lori Tharps, Associate professor, Temple University; co-author, “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”; @LoriTharps

Angel Harris, Assistant counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; @AHarris_LDF

Brittany Noble-Jones, Former news anchor, WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi; @noblejonesontv

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.