New York City rights commission condemns hair and hairstyle based discrimination

The New York City Commission on Human Rights released a guidance document on Monday detailing the implications of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), which protects New Yorkers from hair-based discrimination.

The Commission stated that anti-black bias and racism includes discrimination based on characteristics that are associated with being black. This manifests in restrictions on natural hairstyles associated with black people in favor of white standards of appearance. The NYCHRL protects black people from this kind of discrimination.

The NYCHRL forbids discriminatory treatment by law enforcement, “most employers, housing providers, and providers of public accommodation.” Frequently, in employment guidelines, white hair characteristics are not targeted.

The document states that a range of hair is common in people of African dissent, and the decision to wear that hair in a certain way is highly personal. In many instances the hairstyle can be a “protective style” that is meant to maintain hair health.

These hairstyle restrictions have caused “significant physical and psychological harm” to black people. Repeated manipulation and chemical-based styling can cause hair to become “vulnerable to breakage and loss.” This can lead to trichorrhexis nodosa, a medical condition where weakened hair breaks off easily, and traction alopecia, where hair loss results from applying tension to hair.

In 2014 the Department of Defense enacted a general ban on black hairstyles but it was later reversed after backlash. Many black service members asked to have the ban lifted simply because it is easier to maintain natural hairstyles.

NYC Local Law 85 states that in the construction and interpretation of this statute, using similarly worded provisions of other laws can only serve as a floor “below which the [law] cannot fall” and not a ceiling to restrict it.