The New York City Commission on Human Rights recently launched a new campaign to combat anti-Black racism in New York City. With racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hatred on the rise, it is important to keep these concerns at the forefront. The “While Black” campaign will run in city bus shelters, subways, NYC Link, community media, storefront posters and on social media through Memorial Day as a means to raise awareness of the anti-Black racism far too many New Yorkers experience on a daily basis.
Most importantly (to me), the campaign provides information on how to report discrimination to the Commission. The “While Black” campaign also acknowledges some common forms of discrimination that Black people face while doing everyday activities and affirms the rights of all Black New Yorkers to live their lives free of bias. Part of the impetus behind this campaign were the 584 race-based complaints reported to the Commission in the fiscal year 2018. That’s an overall 20 percent increase in complaints since 2016.
New York City Commission on Human Rights Chair and Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis and her office launched this campaign on the heels of the release of the Commission’s groundbreaking legal guidance on race discrimination and hair in employment and public accommodations. The guidance identifies discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles most commonly associated with Black people as racial discrimination. Preventing Black women from experiencing race-based discrimination in the workplace due to their natural hairstyles is a groundbreaking initiative that hopefully other cities will follow.
The Commissioner’s Office states, “The campaign ads target anyone who identifies as Black, including African-American, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Caribbean and African New Yorkers, as well as entities that have responsibilities, and potential liability, under the law, including housing providers, employers, employment agencies and business owners.”
The Commission’s desire to think outside of the box and show leadership in addressing anti-Black racism is commendable and should be supported. We are currently at a time when we are all seeing frightening signs that white nationalism is on the rise, sanctioned by the highest office in Washington, D.C., and unleashed in small towns and major cities across the country. In addition, this past year, the Commissioner’s Office partnered with artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, to be their first-ever artist in residence and to address issues at the intersection of gender and race. These nontraditional efforts are just another way local government can be bold in its fight for human rights, and modeling that ethos for other organizations, community groups and local government agencies.
It is my sincere hope that local New Yorkers will learn from the Commission’s efforts, as it is imperative to keep the conversations surrounding race, gender, and equality on the table in this particular political climate.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC, and the host of The Aftermath and The Counter on Ozy.com.