Bias and discrimination against curly haired people of African descent is as old as cuando cuca bailaba — as my Dominican mom would say. In other words, it’s been around for centuries and its deeply rooted in racial discrimination and white supremacy. Many of us curly haired folks, grew up conditioned to believe that our hair just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough in school settings, in corporate settings, for job interviews, for first dates — it just wasn’t beautiful and “polished” enough. We were told that in order for us to meet the Eurocentric beauty standards that were constantly being pushed on us, our hair had to be straightened at whatever cost even if it meant damaging our poor tresses with heat-styling, relaxers, and other chemical straighteners. But it looks like our woke efforts have finally paid off and society is finally catching up because bias and mistreatment based on hair texture or style is now officially banned in New York City. The law specifically protects individuals of African descent from being discriminated or targeted in schools or at the work place due to their hair. This was long overdue but worth celebrating!
For a lot of women of color with textured hair — Black women and Afro-Latinas especially — facing disciplinary actions based on hair was something we had to deal with on a regular basis. Part of the reason why I suffered from heat-damage for so long was because for years I was convinced I had to have my hair sleekly blown out for work. I started off my career as a beauty and style reporter and would often attend industry events where the majority of the girls either had straight hair or wore their curls straight. Latinas in the biz were not embracing their curls the way they do today. I was also often advised to straighten my hair on interviews — even on first dates. But like a lot of women of color with textured hair these days, I no longer give into to what society has conditioned us to believe for centuries — that white beauty is the ideal standard.
I’m grateful that New York City has FINALLY addressed this discrimination but I credit WOC for this law finally being passed. The natural hair movement was our form of resistance, our way of resisting and fighting against the beauty standards society was trying to place on us and the lies they were trying to condition us to believe about ourselves and our beauty. We didn’t need society or mainstream media to tell us we were beautiful. We took it upon ourselves to believe and accept that we are. We educated one another about where the hate towards curly haired textures originated from — colonization and white supremacy — and finally gave our curls the TLC it desperately needed for years. We called out hair discrimination against young Black girls in schools and Black women in the work place. We fought until we were finally heard.
Wearing our natural hair was in many ways a political move. Women of color often face discrimination not just in education and employment but even in housing JUST for choosing to wear their hair natural. For folks who don’t have naturally curly hair and don’t fully comprehend the natural hair movement, just think about how you would feel if you couldn’t get a job, were kicked out of your school, and couldn’t qualify for an apartment simply for wearing your hair the way it naturally grows from your scalp. Think about how it would feel to be discriminated just for being you. That’s what curly haired Brown and Black women have had to deal with since forever.
This new law is part of NYC’s existing ordinances against discrimination based on protected class and was written by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, all in an effort to ban racial discrimination once and for all. The new guidelines breaks down how texture and hair styles including, natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, and Afros, are all part of racial expression. Therefore discriminating against these styles would be considered racial discrimination as it absolutely is — no question about it.
Because the targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyle at work, school or in public spaces is now banned, if one was to experience it they would now be able to recourse in civil court. If an individual has been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted, or fired because of their hair texture or style, the city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants who violated the new guidelines.
There are countless stories of Black and Brown women and girls being discriminated just because of their hair. In fact, up until recently, the U.S. military had bans on hairstyles associated with black culture. Black women were unable to wear their hair in braids, twists, or locs until the Army finally lifted its ban in 2017.
Black boys and men have also experienced their fair share of hair discrimination and we witnessed that this past December when a video went viral of a Black high school wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to have his deadlocks cut by a referee in order to not be disqualified. The video was cringe-worthy, as many of us watched horrified at how this teen’s hair was forcefully shaved just because some white folks didn’t find it “acceptable” for sports.
This new hair discrimination ban is a historical move on NYC’s part but it’s also only just a start. This needs to become a national ban because POC being shamed or excluded as a result of their hair needs to finally stop happening once and for all.