Perhaps you've seen the news articles or the Instagram posts about Deandre Arnold, a student at Barbers Hill High School in Texas who was told that unless he cuts off his dreadlocks, he will be unable to walk in his graduation ceremony. (His mother stated that the school changed their dress code while the students were out on winter break and is now requiring Arnold to cut his hair in order to participate in his graduation.)
Or perhaps you've read countless other stories about hair discrimination in schools and workplaces all over the country. Or maybe you're a history buff and you've heard of the Tignon Laws in 1700's Louisiana that regulated the hair and dress of women of African ancestry in a bid to prevent miscegenation.
If you've heard of any of this before, then you know that hair isn't just hair. Not for Black people. Black bodies and black hair have been, and are today, continually policed in our society. Now, states across the US are enacting laws to ban employers and schools from discriminating against African-American hairstyles.
Many Black people who wear natural hairstyles or have tighter curls and kinkier textures have been told that our hair isn't "professional" or that our hair needs to be tamed in order to fit into corporate culture. Some people seem to be offended that kinky hair exists: I once read an entire article written by a man who was trying to advise Black women with kinkier hair textures that we don't have the type of hair to just wear naturally, without chemicals or extensions. What, friend? We don't have the ability to wear the hair that grows out of our own heads without it being altered to your specifications? Log off the internet.
So you can imagine how much it grates on our nerves- okay, I won't speak for everyone- it grates on my nerves that people in schools and workplaces are being told that they need to fit some type of hair code. As if tight coils and kinky tresses are a detriment to education or productivity.
A few people have questioned if these hair discrimination laws are necessary, but if this sort of hair policing has been such a problem for the past three hundred years, apparently they are. California, New York, and most recently, New Jersey have all passed hair discrimination laws.
With reports showing that "30 countries scored higher than U.S. students in math and that the performance gap between top-performing and lower-performing students is widening, especially in reading" (US News and World Report) and with the US at 19th place in world happiness rankings, perhaps we need to be more worried about what's in our heads and hearts than what's on top of our heads. Hopefully, these hair discrimination laws will pass across the county and eventually, maybe we can have an end to hair policing.
By the way, in response to the furor over how they've treated DeAndre Arnold's hair, Superintendent Greg Poole released a statement saying, in part: "We will continue to be a child-centered district that seeks to maximize the potential of EVERY child. Local control is sacred to this country, and we will NOT be bullied or intimidated by outside influences."
Oh, and by the way again, DeAndre Arnold was invited to the Oscars (by Gabrielle Union/ Dwyane Wade and Matthew A. Cherry. Union and Wade had just helped produce Matthew A. Cherry's Oscar nominated animated film, Hair Love.) DeAndre Arnold also just received a $20,000 education fund from Ellen DeGeneres. So....... it appears everyone's living their best life out here besides Barbers Hill ISD. (Shrug.)