Last week the New York City Human Rights Commission released new guidelines that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of hairstyle. Under the guidelines, residents have the right to have “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” And any targeting they may face in a public place like work or school can be deemed racial discrimination.
When I read this long overdue measure toward equality, I immediately thought about my grandparents and a specific day in the spring of 2012.
I was just a few weeks away from my college graduation and was visiting my family in Virginia during spring break. I recall sitting at the table in my grandparents’ house with my grandma, grandpa, mom, sister, aunt and cousin. We were having an important family discussion, or what some might call an intervention.
The issue on the table? My hair.
I’d recently stopped getting relaxers after more than 13 years of keeping my hair chemically straightened. Trying to tame my growing naps with just a flatiron was proving a frustrating and futile fight, so I grabbed the scissors to finally do a big chop and cut off all my relaxed ends, revealing a teeny weeny Afro for all to see.
And what my family saw was a problem that needed solving.
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