There's a new meaning to the term "protective styling" thanks to a recent law that bans race discrimination based on black hair in NYC! The NYC Commission on Human Rights dropped new guidelines in February that prohibits any employers, housing providers, schools or any public institutions to discriminate based on hair texture and hair style. If you're anything like me, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself "how is this a thing in 2019?" We knew that women and men across the country dealt with firings from their jobs and that countless students faced impending suspensions due to wearing natural hair styles but surely those living in a such a progressive and diverse place as NYC, didn't have to worry about having no legal recourse, right? Apparently, there were no legal recourse in NYC and employers and schools had the right to ban hairstyles that they deemed to be "distracting" or "unprofessional". Usually the hairstyles that are referred in this way just happen to be the way Black people naturally wear their hair: in braids, twists, locs and afros!
I talk about the Eurocentric standard of beauty a lot because it comes into play in almost every aspect of life. Because there is a widely held belief that straight hair is the standard for what is beautiful and, in this case, professional, anything that falls outside of that is seen as 'other' or 'wrong‘. Naturally kinky, coily and curly hair is seen as something that needs to be changed so that those who have it can fit in what is deemed as ‘normal’. America has long held this belief that straight hair is better and it is embedded into the racist policies that corporations, public institutions and schools adopt and enforce. Using the term “unprofessional" to describe natural hair is code word for hairstyles that should not be taken seriously in the workplace. There is nothing unprofessional about natural hair...nothing! Our hair does not hinder us from performing any of our duties, nor does it hinder anyone else from performing theirs, so what is the actual problem? Grooming policies that forbid natural hairstyles that are typically worn by Black people underscore the fact that it is simply the aesthetic of natural hair that is causing the issue.
In fact, this is the exact sentiment stated in the NYC Commission enforcement guidelines: "natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people are often rooted in white standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that Black hairstyles are unprofessional. Such policies exacerbate anti-Black bias in employment, at school, while playing sports, and in other areas of daily living."
I am so ecstatic about the language that is used by NYC because it shows that they understand what Black people have been experiencing in this country. Black hair has been under attack for a long time and this new law validates our struggle for freedom from racial discrimination. Will people who have been discriminated against before the law was passed have any legal recourse? What evidence needs to be presented to prove someone has been discriminated against because of their hair? Are schools and corporations being educated about these new guidelines? These are some of the questions that come to mind regarding this new law and how it will be enforced. As happy as I am that this law exists and that Black people are protected I hope this opens the door for conversations on acceptance...not only from others but of ourselves as well. I also hope that NYC has set an example to the world that Black people everywhere have a right to be themselves...naturally.