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New York City's Commission on Human Rights has released new guidelines to criminalize discrimination based on hair or hairstyle in public, workplaces and schools, after a long history of racial discrimination thinly disguised as dress or style codes.

"Policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people aren't about 'neatness' or 'professionalism;' they are about limiting the way black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings," said Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis.

These new regulations will consider any act by employers or public officials against a person for their choice in hairstyle, such as harassment, threats, punishment, demotion or firing, as a form of racial discrimination. Entities that commit this kind of discrimination can be penalized up to $250,000, and victims of this kind of discrimination can sue without an upper limit on how much they can claim in damages. Furthermore, the commission can force businesses to rehire people and force policy changes if they violate the new guidelines.

"Black people have too often been forced to relinquish their preferred hairstyles in order to accommodate arbitrary and aesthetic expectations that require chemical alterations and manipulations to suppress or alter their natural hair texture," said Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia University. "These discriminatory demands not only undermine their physical well-being but also their access to employment, their enjoyment of educational opportunities and their dignity."

 

Joanne Smith, president for Girls for Gender Equity, argues that these protections will also benefit transgender and gender non-conforming people, who also experience discrimination under the guise of hairstyle policies.

The commission has already begun investigating seven cases involving discrimination against black people for keeping their natural hair, and urges anyone who believes themselves to be a victim of this form of racism to call 311 and report it to the Commission on Human Rights.

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