Social Issues

The Hair Controversy

The fight for equality is still going. We are constantly striving to make the world we live in a better place. This can be seen in the policies that are being passed, one of which is, the law passed lifting the ban on discrimination based on hair. NY State has passed a law that makes it illegal for any individual or institution to show any form of discrimination towards anyone based on their hair. There have been many instances of people facing discrimination based on their hair. For instance, a Buena Regional High School varsity wrestler had his dreadlocs forcefully cut by a referee before his match else he forfeits his match. There was a video of it posted on social media which went viral. This led to a national outrage and got the referee banned. However, it doesn’t take away from the emotional and mental strain the wrestler may have experienced.  “The New York City’s human rights commission specifically asserts the right of people 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” (Andre D. Wagner, New York Times). Carmelyn P. Malalis, commissioner and chairwoman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights said, “They are based on racist standards of appearance.” It may seem like such a trivial issue to some people, but this has been an ongoing problem all over the world, which dates all the way back to the era of slavery.    

It is often said that the hair is a person’s crowning glory. Hair represents different things for different people. Runaway slaves braided patterns in their hair that served as maps to their escape route. Mothers put rice in the hair of their children before braiding during times when their children were going to be sold to new slave owners. This was to ensure that their kids didn’t starve on the long commute to their new slave owners. To the Rastafarians, dreadlocs has a spiritual symbolism.  The hair can represent beauty, social status, spirituality, religiosity and many other different reasons. During slavery, slave women were asked to cover their hair with head wraps or scarves. The overlords or slave masters imposed it as a badge of enslavement. The slaves rebelled by using beautifully patterned scarves and tying them in intricate styles to adorn themselves.  In the 1960s, for example, wearing an Afro, was seen as a political stance rather than for its pure aesthetic purpose. Today, certain hair types and styles are considered unsightly and unprofessional.

The question however is, why should a person’s natural hair be seen as inappropriate when it is what the person is born with? It doesn’t seem to affect the person’s productivity or attitude to their work, so why should it be an issue for others? For instance, a soldier is still a soldier protecting a country whether they have dreadlocks, braids, straight or curly hair. It doesn’t take away from their duties or make them less efficient. This may not seem like a big deal for most people, but for individuals who constantly face discrimination in varying ways, this is a huge deal. It means that we are making our way to an egalitarian society. This ban will help promote self-confidence, boost self-esteem, eradicate bullying and lead to an overall great mental health. Hopefully, other states in the country would follow suit as well as the rest of the world. This is because, a person’s hair should not define them or their capabilities. No one should be made to feel inferior because of their choice of hairstyle.

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