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NYC bans hairstyle discrimination: Why the law should be nationwide

You can now wear the hairstyle of your dreams without worrying about getting discriminated against in New York under new regulations issued by the New York City Commission on Human Rights on Monday.

Whether it be the workplace, school or any public area, it is the law to accept your hairstyle of choice, or will now be considered racial discrimination.

While the ban may come off as a no-brainer and as something that should have never been legal in the first place, the legislation was brought forth due to investigations in the past.

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Complaints from workers at the Bronx Morris Park medical facility and a nonprofit in Morrisania, as well as workers at an Upper East Side hair salon and a restaurant in the Howard Beach section of Queens have all had experiences with discrimination against hairstyles according to the The New York Times who got their hands on the guidelines before it’s public release.

While not stated specifically, with the regulations now allowing New Yorkers to maintain “natural hair, 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,” it’s clear the legislation was aimed to repair the years of marginalization.

Under the new law, if you feel as if a job, school or any decision regarding your advancement was lost due to your hairstyle there’s legal recourse.

The city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants that are found in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. The commission can also force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.

Kudos to New York for getting ahead on this although long overdue, but hopefully it sparks a change for other states, too, because this isn’t just a Bronx issue. There is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair putting POC everywhere without these protections liable to be discriminated against.

Just last spring the United States Supreme Court refused an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund request to review a case in which a black woman named Chastity Jones had her job offer rescinded in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.

And who can forget the video of a 6-year-old being turned away on the first day of school because he has dreadlocks went viral last year.

So, while these new developments can be seen as a win in many regards, the battle is still to be won.  There are still people — specifically, people of color —  who, every day, see doors closed because of a hairstyle that’s natural to them. And until the fight is over, there can be no rest.

At worst, the new law in New York will start a culture that’s contagious to other cities, making gatekeepers everywhere to change the way they look at potential clients, students, and customers. At best, a federal precedent is take up and won on the matter.

Regardless, this is a sign of the inevitable change the corporate world is headed for and will be something they indeed will not be able to stop.