New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expanded existing laws to provide protections against discrimination on the basis of natural hair on Friday, making New York the second state after California to do so.
Cuomo amended the state’s Human Rights Law and the Dignity for All Students Act, adding to their definitions of race. Both policies now make it explicitly illegal to discriminate against a person on account of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles” — using language identical to the amendment adopted by California earlier this month.
It has been recognized that “hair discrimination,” or discrimination on the basis of natural hairstyles and textures, disproportionately affects people of color. Often, they are are negatively impacted by rigid and exclusionary policies regarding hairstyles in schools, the workplace, and the military.
"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 on Friday.
California’s CROWN Act explained that European standards of beauty have historically been applied to Western ideals of professional appearance, which discounts natural features of people of color
"There was a time when everyone thought you had to straighten your hair to be pretty, attractive. Those days are gone,” Gabrielle Corney, a hairstylist of 20 years from New York City, told Pix 11 News.
A study by Dove, which co-founded the CROWN Coalition that sponsored the California bill passed earlier this month, found that black women are 50% more likely to be sent home or to know another black woman who has been sent home for wearing her hair in its natural style or texture to work due to discriminatory dress codes.
The Supreme Court rejected one such case last year in which a black woman in Alabama said her job offer was revoked in 2010 because she would not cut her dreadlocks, and an appeals court viewed her choice to wear her hair in its natural state as a cultural practice rather than one of the “immutable characteristics” protected from discrimination by federal law.
"Natural hair is a texture that grows naturally from people of color and black people's heads. And we want to make sure that they are able to enter the workplace, enter school, all sorts of public spaces without a limitation on how they can wear their hair,” NAACP attorney Patricia Okonto said about the fight against such exclusionary policies across the US.
New York City residents had already been granted similar protections in February when the New York City Commission on Human Rights instituted a ban on discrimination on the basis of hair textures or hairstyles in the workplace, schools, and other facilites open to the public. Friday’s measure has afforded all New Yorkers the same human rights, with the hope that other states will follow suit.
"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,” Cuomo said.