Being fair to natural hair


Chyna Smith

What My’Dia Cruz,‘22 and Yazmeen Campbell, ‘22 like most about their natural hair is the versatility and expression. “I like that I can do whatever I want with it,” Cruz said. “If I want to go to the beach all I have to do is get box braids.”

On Feb. 20, 2019, the New York Committee of Human Rights declared that companies are forbidden from discriminating against individuals based on their hairstyle.

Black men and women have been discriminated against for wearing their natural hair throughout U.S. history, but only now a law has passed preventing further discrimination.

Though it may not be the most apparent form of discrimination, unfair treatment against African Americans for their hairstyle commonly plays a role in implicit persecution. Many black women have normalized getting relaxers and straightening their hair to look “professional,” believing hairstyles other than their own lead to a higher chance of being hired.

Tanya Ficklin, a WHHS guidance counselor for grades 10-12, shared her thoughts. “I’m excited that [the law] was passed. But I’m very frustrated that it had to be passed. I don’t think it’s fair that natural is something that you have to have a lot [of] permission to be who you are,” Ficklin said.

Ficklin also considered why this discrimination still exists. “It’s very frustrating. I think it goes back way way back to when we first (we being the African American people) began to assimilate. That became the natural, that became the norm, that became the expected,” she said. “And then when we decided to express ourselves and love ourselves it became an issue, and now in order for us to be who we are, you have to have a law that says you can be you. We don’t have to have a law that says you can mimic someone else, so I’m frustrated that it has to be laid out but I’m excited it took place.”

Nevaeh Ward, ‘20, also shared her thoughts. “I think it’s ridiculous how late it is [but] I am glad the law was passed,” Ward said.

Ficklin also discussed the idea that black women have to straighten their hair to be seen as professional. “I don’t have a negative feeling. Either way, my thing is whatever is comfortable for you is comfortable for you,” Ficklin said. “If natural is what works for you. And if natural is straightening your hair, it is what works for you. I think it’s unfortunate that our sense of beauty is attached to European beauty and not attached to who we are.”

Ficklin continued with this idea of individual choice with people’s hair. “It truly depends upon the person and if you can manage your natural hair or not,” Ficklin said. “Let’s be honest: it’s not something easy to manage for everyone just like straightened hair is not something easy for everyone to manage. It has to be what works for you.”

Ward said, “It didn’t occur to me that it was problematic, but once I started to notice that it is, it bothered me and opened my eyes a little bit about the situation.”

No matter one’s opinion, the New York law is a significant step in combating discrimination against African Americans.