Let Me Wear My Crown: Black Hair Discrimination in School

Oct 17, 2023 1:51:08 PM


“That girl has always had a head full of hair.”

Whenever there is a large family gathering, my hair becomes part of the commentary. I have always had thick, long, afro-textured, curly hair. My hair is versatile. I can rock two-strands twist, cornrows, plaits, single braids, an afro, wash-and-go, to name a few of my go-to styles. I love that my hair can do so much! Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have the same love for my crown.

Some kids made fun of my big, poofy hair, and some teachers would grab it without my permission because they just needed to know what my hair felt like.

I never understood why Black hair is policed. That policing can make Black people feel like something is wrong with their hair. In college, I was addicted to the silk press, a method of straightening natural hair without a perm. Perms make afro hair straight and non-afro hair curly. Despite the heat damage, I was committed to this practice because I felt it was professional and acceptable. I did not know how to style my hair well. I did not start styling my hair until seventh grade. My mother did my hair until then, and one day, she said she wasn’t doing it anymore.

This girl with a head full of hair didn’t know what to do. My hair was permed from 7th grade until my sophomore year of college. Then, I transitioned to the silk press. The damage would reoccur. One day, I thought, Why do I have to damage my hair to achieve a look that my hair wasn’t naturally meant to do?

During the pandemic, I cut a significant portion of my hair off and gave up the silk press and the blow drier. It was liberating. Unfortunately, many Black students are enslaved to archaic and racist school policies that police hair. Every year, and I mean every single year, I write about an incident involving Black students receiving negative consequences for their hair. One time, in the article “We Shouldn’t Need Laws to Stop the Policing of Black People’s Hair,” I even compiled all of the previous times I have written about this issue.

In 2023, Black parents are still fighting this battle. 

Darryl George

Darryl George, a Black high school student in Texas, has been serving in-school suspension since August 31.

The infraction: his hair.

Specifically, his locs are under scrutiny because the length is below his eyebrows and ear lobes. The family disagrees that he violates the dress code because he wears his locs twisted up to stay above his eyebrows and ear lobes.

There are a few people in my family who have locs. Their locs are long and heavy. It must be a substantial physical burden to have to style hair in the same way every day, and then those efforts are attacked, and consequences are assigned.

Let’s look at Barbers Hill High School’s dress code, which includes hair. The first two paragraphs include these statements:

  • The district’s dress code is established to teach grooming and hygiene, prevent disruption, and minimize safety hazards. 
  • It is our desire to maintain a standard of acceptable dress and grooming habits that will contribute to this image.  

Not only is this student missing direct instruction, but he has also been labeled unacceptable and deemed to have unacceptable grooming practices and image.

Afro hair is the perfect texture to loc. How is this poor grooming when the hair is styled in a way that works for the hair texture?

Schools Must Evaluate Archaic Dress Codes

Last year, federal lawmakers could not pass a federal version of the CROWN Act, an acronym for "Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." However, 24 states, including Texas, have a CROWN Act law on the books. This law had to be created to eliminate policies that punish people because of their hairstyles, specifically styles that are worn by Black people, such as locs, afros, twists, and braids. 

The family has filed a lawsuit. What does this mean for Darryl George? Does he continue to miss out on his education because of his hair?

Again, this is another opportunity for school districts to evaluate their dress codes. Questions for consideration should be:

  • If this policy didn’t exist, would academics be impacted?

  • Is there any student group (race, gender, socio-economic status) that would be penalized more than others if this policy continues?

  • Was feedback from teachers, parents, and students considered before the policies were finalized?

Black people are no longer enslaved in this country, yet some people still want to enslave our hair. One day, I hope I only have to write about Black hair joy. Our hair is our crown of glory. Let our Black students rock their crowns. Don’t remove them from their education over archaic policies.

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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