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Hair Style Discrimination Banned In NYC


Targeting someone because of their dreadlocks, cornrows or other hairstyle can now lead to steep fines in New York City. Among other things, employers there can no longer force workers to straighten their hair to promote a certain corporate image.

The new guidelines apply to everyone, but they're specifically meant to protect black people, who often face discrimination because of their hair. Oluwakemi Aladesuyi visited a couple of New York City hair salons to learn what people there think of the new protections.

OLUWAKEMI ALADESUYI, BYLINE: Hair has often been a battleground.

AYANIA HUGGINS: I used to have to get my hair hot-combed.

ALADESUYI: When Ayania Huggins was younger, she went through great lengths to get her naturally kinky hair to be straight.

HUGGINS: That was like torture, a hot comb that you literally put that on a stove and heat it up. And then they comb through your hair. You can hear it, like, sizzling, like, oh, the worst - the worst.

ALADESUYI: Today she's got dreadlocks that go past her shoulders.

HUGGINS: Growing up, straighter hair seemed like the most acceptable hair instead of our natural, kinky curly hair, which is also beautiful.

ALADESUYI: She's sitting in a salon chair at Sabine's Hallway, waiting to get her new growth interlocked. It's Saturday morning, and the salon is busy. There are women with platinum coils and orange-tipped twists. Someone is getting her hair blown dry so that it floats up around her face like a cloud.

It's people like these that New York City's new guidelines are meant to protect. Now forcing people to change their hairstyle for work, school and in other public places can amount to racial discrimination. Many black people have long dealt with racial stereotypes about hair. Huggins says that if she worked in corporate America, she'd worry that her locks would be seen as unprofessional.

JADE ALLAMBY: This idea of, like, women as delicate with long hair that's straight - and I think, like, everyone falls into that, not just black women.

ALADESUYI: Jade Allamby is getting her locs freshened. When she was in law school, Allamby worried about how other people would perceive her hair. So she spent months combing out her dreadlocks so she could wear her hair straight for job interviews.

ALLAMBY: I think, though, that for black women it becomes, like, incredibly contentious just because we have to go through extreme lengths to kind of manipulate our hair to be straight. So it's like - it's a chemical process. It's, like, a physical process.

ALADESUYI: At De Lux Gallery in Fort Greene, reggae hums in the background, and a similar conversation is taking place.

MONIQUE JONES: To say that somebody has to straighten their hair to attend or be a part of anything, to make that a requirement is to deny them as a person.

ALADESUYI: That's Monique Jones. Her son has long, loose curls. When her grandmother saw the texture, she had this to say.

JONES: She said, I hope he keeps this. And it was just the sense that if his hair was to kink up, that it wouldn't be as acceptable or attractive.

ALADESUYI: The New York City guidelines attempt to protect people from discrimination. But the owner of De Lux Gallery, Glen Ettienne, says it might not be enough - especially when people are applying for jobs.

GLEN ETTIENNE: When you walk in for the interview and they see you have a certain hairstyle, they are going to find some reason to not hire you. Discrimination is not going to end here in America.

ALADESUYI: While they may not end discrimination based on hairstyle, other stylists at De Lux hope that the New York City guidelines will give their clients the confidence and the freedom to choose whatever hairstyle they want. For NPR News, I'm Oluwakemi Aladesuyi in Brooklyn, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kemi Aladesuyi