I Am Not My HairJan 23, 2024
I’ve written several posts over the years about Black children and adults being discriminated against for wearing their hair natural, instead of relaxing it or cutting it close in a TWA (teeny weeny afro).
I’ve been teased and discriminated against on the job as an adult when I first started wearing my hair natural. I remember the first day I went to work after getting my relaxed hair cut off, my white male supervisor (who is a friend and a mentor) laughed and asked me if my hair was a political statement. I was speechless and said nothing. A coworker, an older white lady closer to his age, rolled her eyes and said, “It’s a hairstyle.”
A year or two later when the supervisors in my small department had moved on, staff and volunteers in the organization just knew I was up for a promotion. But the white woman executive director told me directly that she had no doubts about my skills and abilities, but I was under 30, wore my hair in cornrows, and I would be the only one on the board. I asked only one what because there were women on the board, but she didn’t answer that question. So I know what it’s like to be treated differently for wearing your hair the way it naturally grows out of your head instead of using chemicals to make other people feel more comfortable with your appearance.
I’ve been following the Darryl George situation in Texas, where a Black high school student has been on suspension for most of his junior year for refusing to cut his locs. Originally school officials were reported as saying that male student's hair couldn’t "extend, at any time, below the eyebrows or the earlobes." George pins his locs on his head in a way that does not extend below the eyebrows or the earlobes. In more recent articles, school officials are stating that the Barbers Hill ISD student handbook says that male students’ hair cannot reach "below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes when let down."
How does a school system get to tell students how they can wear their hair when they are not at school?
George was suspended for the first time the month the CROWN Act took effect in Texas. CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. It basically means that Black folks can’t be retaliated against for wearing our hair in its natural state and wearing hairstyles appropriate for our natural hair texture.
The Barbers Hill school system claims they don’t have a problem with George’s hair texture, only with its length, even though he keeps it pinned up neatly and in accordance with school policy when he’s in school. This is a power flex to let Black students know they still have to conform to white standards of beauty and acceptance. And while the school claims that his disciplinary issues are not about his hair – they’ve cited him repeatedly with violating the dress code and the tardy policy, disrupting the in-school suspension classroom and not complying with school directives – all but the tardiness is related to his hair, and he was told that if he trimmed his hair, he could avoid in-school suspension.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Houston-area Democrat who co-wrote the CROWN Act has said the school is acting in bad faith and he plans to amend the act.
The Georges have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the school, and they aren’t the first. In 2020, two other Black male high school students, De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford were retaliated against by the school for wearing locs. Arnold was told he couldn’t attend prom or graduation unless he cut his hair. The case is pending, but while issuing an injunction, a federal judge found that the school district's policy was discriminatory.
According to Rep. Reynolds, the Arnold and Bradford case spurred the creation of the CROWN Act in Texas, and he’s disappointed that the school is still causing needless stress and trauma for students.
The Superintendent of Barbers Hill ISD took out a full page ad in the @HoustonChron to defend suspending an African American student from school because his hair was too long. Wow. Just wow. pic.twitter.com/C2cZYUh3dR— Murray Newman (@murraynewman) January 14, 2024
Barbers Hill ISD superintendent Greg Poole took things further on January 14, buying a full page ad in the Houston Chronicle (paid for by the Barbers Hill Education Foundation) after taking issue the editorial published by the Chronicle in December. In the ad he stated, “Being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity,” referencing strict codes of conduct at military academies. The only problem is he’s superintendent at a public high school, not a military academy.
His type of conservative loves to talk about freedom until it comes to some minority group or “other.” Then they want assimilation and conformity. I’m glad Darryl George’s family is suing, and I hope it sinks in for this school district that everyone, including Black folks, deserve to be able to wear their hair naturally. I also hope the school decides to focus on things that matter, like education and maybe even compassion.
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