Anti-Black racism is an invidious and persistent form of discrimination across the nation and in New York City. Anti-Black racism can be explicit and implicit, individual and structural, and it can manifest through entrenched stereotypes and biases, conscious and unconscious. Anti-Black bias also includes discrimination based on characteristics and cultural practices associated with being Black, including prohibitions on natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people. Bans or restrictions on 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.
On July 12th, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Assembly bill 007797 to prohibit “race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles” in the state of New York. California passed its own legislation against natural hair discrimination on July 3rd, becoming the first state to ever do so; known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act.
The bill is an amendment to New York’s Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act, which states that racial discrimination extends to traits that are historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective styles. This also marks a victory for The New York Commission of Human Rights, which set guidelines in New York City earlier this year in February, to protect citizens’ rights to wear their natural hair—something women have had to change or hide for years.
“For much of our nation’s history, people of color—particularly women—have been marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their hairstyle or texture,” Governor Cuomo tells The New York Post. “By signing this bill into law, we are taking an important step toward correcting that history and ensuring people of color are protected from all forms of discrimination.”
We want all of our beauty to be welcome in all places and institutions. While all women experience pressure to conform to certain standards of appearance, Black women are unfairly impacted. Society’s bias has enabled discrimination against Black women’s hair, including being judged differently based on hair texture and hairstyle. According to DOVE.com:
- A Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work
- Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home or know of a black woman sent home from the workplace because of her hair
“As a black woman who prioritizes equity, and has worn my natural [hair] for 17 years, this bill is deeply personal for me,” New York Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright tells The New York Post of the bill passing. “A legislative fix was in order.”
Hair Bias Hurts Us All
The societal norms and corporate grooming policies that unfairly impact Black women create distractions that impact our whole society. We know diversity has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Corporations refusing to hire, firing, or refusing to promote a Black woman because of her Protective Hairstyle not only destabilizes individual households but impacts the broader economy as the workforce boasts more working women than ever.
In 2019, Black women still remain pressured to conform to Eurocentric standards of appearance. Black women report receiving formal grooming policies at a rate significantly higher than White women. Natural hairstyles inherent to Black identity such as locks, braids, Bantu knots, etc. are ranked the lowest for “job readiness.”