A new law in New York has made it illegal to discriminate based on hair.
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That's the song "Don't touch my hair" by Solange Knowles. And it's a song whose message can be felt in new guidelines just revealed in New York City. The city's officials have banned discrimination on the basis of hair - a policy primarily designed to support African-Americans who say they are frequent targets. Sophie Eastwood reports.
Dreadlocks braided or straightened, Afro hair has been the subject of discrimination and social pressure for centuries. Countless examples show that it continues to be so today. In December, a referee forced a New Jersey high school student to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match. Last August, a school in Louisiana sent an 11-year old girl home for having braids they deemed unnatural. And last spring, the US Supreme Court declined to review the case of an Alabama woman whose job offer at an insurance company was cancelled after she refused to cut her locks.
Now New York City's Human Rights Commission has become the first in the country to make it illegal to discriminate against a person for their hairstyle. Firms can be fined and ordered to rehire. Employees can receive damages. The policy hits out at what it calls a widespread and fundamentally racist belief that black hairstyles are not appropriate for formal settings.
Ria Tobacco Mar, a civil rights lawyer in the city, welcomed the move.
I myself am a woman of color. I do wear my hair in locks. And I have experience comments, both explicit and implicit, suggesting that natural black hair is inherently not professional. And that's exactly the kind of pernicious racial stereotype that anti-discrimination laws are meant to prevent.
Last year, the US Army rolled back controversial regulations banning dreadlocks and twists after outrage from African-American soldiers.