Some Exciting Headway on the War Against Hair Discrimination

In the 21st century, hair discrimination continues to be a hairy problem in many societies. This is blatant discrimination against black hair or Afro-textured hair. In essence, laws and policies are formulated to label black hair as informal, unprofessional and even unclean. ‘Acceptable hair’ then becomes straight hair; making people conform to unfair and even unnecessary standards.

Credit ; Giorgio Fochesato / Stocksy

New York

The war against hair discrimination is however recording some wins; most notably in New York. In early February 2019, a law that bans hair discrimination was put in place. This law was initiated by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The law protects people of color from any form of hair discrimination in the workplace, school or any other place within the jurisdiction. According to resolutions by the commission, banning natural hair styles equals racism and such laws only make black stereotypes even worse. The commission also noted that black hair styles are mostly seen as informal, unkempt and simply 'not good enough'.

This New York hair law therefore protects the rights of people to have natural hair whether treated or untreated. The law specifies that styles such as braids, cornrows, twists, Bantu knots and any other Afro-hair style are acceptable. 

In the U.S army, these natural hair styles had been banned until a policy change of 2018; which now allows women to wear natural styles such as dreadlocks, braids and so on. Many states are now looking to undo the wrongs where hair discrimination is concerned and the strides are slow but sure. The U.S federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allows employers to set a dress code in their companies and workplaces. Employers can therefore demand all workers to be in 'neutral hairstyles'; overlooking cultural differences and hair types.

California has also joined the fight against hair discrimination. Sen. Holly Mitchell is backing the Crown Act which seeks to make the enforcing of race-neutral hairstyles illegal. The act advocates against discrimination of people who choose to wear natural and protective hairstyles like braids and dreadlocks.

Hair discrimination in Kenya

Most recently in Nairobi, a Rastafarian girl admitted at the Olympic High School was sent home to cut off her dreadlocks. According to the school, the hairstyle did not meet the threshold required for uniformity. The girl's family headed to court to sue the Ministry of Education for religious hair discrimination.

It took intervention from the Education Cabinet Secretary (at the time) Amina Mohamed, who issued a directive that the girl should continue schooling with her dreadlocks. Hair discrimination is rife at many schools and workplaces in the African continent. Straight hair is seen as more formal, neat and even better compared to kinky hair. With many battles being won, there is no doubt that the war against hair discrimination will only gain momentum.   

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