2024 is the Year to End Hair Politics In Schools

Jan 2, 2024 5:37:04 PM


When stories of hair politics go viral, people are outraged for a moment, but the student at the center of the incident is quickly forgotten and the masses move on to the next topic to rage about. I've fought against school dress codes that penalize Black students for the way they wear their hair for years now. For. Years.

Take Darryl George, for example. A Black high school student in Texas, Darryl has been disciplined and kept away from his classroom for months due to his refusal to change his hairstyle, which school officials claim violates the dress code. Despite efforts by George's attorney to pause the punishment and a civil rights lawsuit filed by his family, he remains in-school suspension at Barbers Hill High School. 

The dispute centers around George's locs, which school officials argue exceed the allowed length, while his family contends that the hairstyle adheres to the rules because of how George has pinned back his locs. 

Additionally, the family has argued that the CROWN Act, now a Texas law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, should protect students’ right to choose their hair length and style under federal law. 

While George’s family fights for his right to have locs, instead of attending classes and receiving a proper education, George remains in in-school suspension (ISS) at his high school.

“Cut his hair” or “Switch schools” have been some suggestions lodged, but why should a student have to cut their hair or change schools to receive a proper education?

At this point, real harm has been done to George's academic, social, and personal life. Attention he didn't ask for or deserve, all because of a un-inclusive school dress code that insists on politicizing Black students. 

School dress codes need to be evaluated annually. There are still antiquated, uninclusive mandates on the books.

Are boys really learning less because girls are wearing spaghetti straps?

Is a bright hair color blinding other students from learning?

Does requiring khaki or navy pants help students learn more?

Teaching and learning is what school is about, and somehow, the needle has strayed to policing what students wear and how they style their hair.

There is internalized anti-Blackness in people who make policies that disproportionately penalize. Those people aren’t always non-Black. Sometimes, it is Black folks who perpetuate this harm, not knowing the history.

Some schools in America and Africa demand students' hair be a certain way. In Africa, much of this was rooted in a belief that afro-textured hair was “ungodly.”

An article about Kenyan schools notes that “in precolonial times, Christian missionaries demanded that girls who attended their mission schools cut their hair to their scalp, as they believed that black hair was “unsightly, ungodly, and untamable.” Beyond their students, missionaries also forbade all African women who attended their churches from wearing any artistic hairstyles, even though African women did so for many different reasons, including signifying their age, class, and rank in their community.”  

Over the years, some Black people have believed that certain hairstyles are better, not knowing that these hairstyles forced upon Black children were based on hate of the beautifully textured hair growing out of their heads.

As a Black woman with a lot of hair that is thick and long, I have straightened my hair because it was so much work. The key is that I chose that; it was not forced upon me. I no longer flat iron my hair, and again, that’s my choice.

What message are we sending to children, when we tell them they do not deserve to attend class over their hairstyle?

One message is that school is not that important if something so trivial can eliminate a student from the classroom setting. Also, it says that the teachers and administrators don’t care how you will fare in the world without an education. 

How You Can Help End Hair Politics

Parents and educators: Actively advocate for regular evaluation and revision of school dress codes. They can collaborate with school boards and administrators to ensure that these codes are inclusive, do not disproportionately penalize any group, and align with the principles of the CROWN Act.

School leaders: Cultivate open dialogue within the school community about the impact of dress codes on students. Encourage discussions that explore the connection between appearance and education, challenging stereotypes and biases. This can involve hosting town hall meetings, parent-teacher conferences, or workshops.

Lawmakers: Support and actively promote the implementation of anti-discrimination laws like the CROWN Act at the local and federal levels. Ensure that these laws are effectively communicated to educators, parents, and students, emphasizing the protection of students' rights to express themselves through their hairstyles.

Education advocates and activists: Remind and educate both educators and school administrators the primary focus of education is teaching and learning and unnecessarily strict dress codes that may distract from the core mission of education.

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at gardenershicole.com. To learn more about Shawnta, visit educatorbarnes.com.

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