New York Bans Discrimination Against Natural Hair

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that will make New York one of the few states to ban race-based hair discrimination.

Cuomo signed Assembly Bill 07797 on July 12, which amended the Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act to ensure that racial discrimination also includes "traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles."

"For much of our nation's history, people of color -— particularly women — have been marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their hair style or texture," Cuomo said in a statement. "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."

New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins thanked Cuomo for signing the bill and said diversity in the state should be celebrated.

"Discriminating against someone because of their hair style or texture is wrong, and now it is also against the law. We should celebrate the diversity that makes New York State great and that includes respecting the hair style choices of all New Yorkers,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “I commend Senator Jamaal Bailey for sponsoring this legislation which the Senate Majority was proud to pass, and I thank Governor Cuomo for signing it into law."

In the past year, there have been plenty of instances where people have been discriminated against because of their hair. In March, Six Flags Over Texas denied a job to a teenager from Arlington, Texas, because of his dreadlocks.

The establishment told Kerion Washington, 17, he could not work at the theme park because his hair was considered an “extreme hairstyle,” KXAS-TV previously reported.

“I just don’t even believe it,” the 17-year-old previously told the news station. “That I would have to do that just to work there. They told me that I couldn’t have dreads because it’s more of an extreme hairstyle.”

Washington’s story went viral after his mother, Karis Washington, posted a picture to her Facebook page explaining the incident.

Since the incident, Washington has received numerous job offers and is now working on a modeling career, The Dallas Morning News previously reported. He told the publication that Corrie Caster, the head of development for IMG Los Angeles and a scout for IMG Models Worldwide, reached out to him on Instagram and set him up with a local modeling agency. The teen had his first modeling shoot in Austin, Texas with Jones Model Management, The Dallas Morning News reported.

“The shoot wasn’t exhausting at all,” Washington previously told the publication. “It was easy work, and it was really fun.”

Communications manager Sharon Parker at Six Flags Over Texas told the publication that it has also changed its policy since the incident in March.

“Male team members may now wear dreadlocks,” Parker said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. “Provided, per our standard guidelines — they are well-groomed and do not extend past the bottom of the collar.”

New York isn’t the only state that has signed off on banning hairstyle discrimination. Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN ACT), USA Today previously reported. The act, also known as Senate Bill 188, bans hair discrimination and will protect people who wear hairstyles like cornrows, Afros, or dreadlocks from being penalized at work or school.

Los Angeles Senator Holly J. Mitchell first introduced the bill back in April. While speaking to the Senate a few months ago, Mitchell said signing the bill would “help dispel myths and educate those who need it about the unique qualities of Black hair and texture and the Black hair experience.”

“Many Black employees, including your staff… will tell you, if given the chance, that the struggle to maintain what society has deemed a ‘professional image’ while protecting the health and integrity of their hair remains a defining and paradoxical struggle in their work experience, not usually shared by their non-Black peers,” Mitchell previously said in a press release. “It is 2019. Any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a position, not because of my capabilities or experience but because of my hair, is long overdue for reform.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.