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Is Hair Discrimination Becoming an Acceptable Form of Racism? 

Is Hair Discrimination Becoming an Acceptable Form of Racism? 

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Black hair is beautiful and unique, but why is it often seen as controversial? The Afro was once a symbol of rebellion. Braids were ghetto or too ethnic for a professional setting until they were appropriated and became trendy. 

Over the decades, Black hair has become newsworthy and trendy for better or for worse.

A prime example is the case of Darryl George, who filed a lawsuit against his school district after receiving a suspension from his school because of his hair.

Let’s take a deeper look at why certain people and organizations believe that the way Black people wear their hair is deemed unacceptable in certain settings.

Student Suspended Over Hair Length

Since August 31, 2023, student Darryl George (18) has endured in-school suspension and attended an offsite disciplinary program because his hair didn’t conform to the Barbers Hill High School dress code. 

The Mont Belvieu, Texas, school has a strict dress and grooming code that says male students’ hair must be kept at a length that doesn’t go past the ear lobe. Yet when George attended school with his locs braided and wrapped on the top of his head, administrators at his school deemed it unacceptable. 

In a disciplinary notice, the school wrote that George’s hair is “out of compliance with the BH dress code when let down.” The notice also said that if George corrected the dress code violation, he could return to regular classes. 

In response, Darryl and his mother, Darresha George, filed a federal lawsuit in the Texas Southern District Court in September. They stated that the suspension violated the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, which bans race-based hair discrimination.

Unfortunately, a Texas judge recently ruled that the punishment did not violate the CROWN Act because the suspension was based on the length of George’s hair and wasn’t because of his race. 

In response, George Polle, the superintendent at BHISD, said in a statement to the press, “The CROWN Act was meant to allow braids, locs, or twists, which the district has always allowed. The law was never intended to allow unlimited student expression.”

While one side sees hair length as unrelated to race or culture, the other side sees it differently. The George family and supporters feel that being able to grow one’s hair to a long length is a cultural practice and shouldn’t be discriminated against. 

About the Crown Act

The CROWN Act, created by Dove and the CROWN coalition with State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California, protects people of color from being discriminated against based on race-based hairstyles. It extends statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as locs, twists, knots, and braids in public schools and workplaces. 

This regulation came about after the CROWN study in 2019. The research surveyed women who worked in office settings. The results showed that Black women’s hair was more policed at work than other hairstyles. Additionally, 80% of Black women had to change their hairstyle to fit into their work environment.

Additionally, research done by Brooks Institute showed that Black students are more likely to be suspended for reasons such as long hair or dress code violations. These violations haven’t been found to lead to student misbehavior.

Currently, the CROWN Act has become law in 24 states. In March 2022, the act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives; however, it did not pass the Senate. 

Why Hair Shouldn’t Interfere with a Student’s Education

In 2023, there were over 80 school shootings in the United States. This outrageously high number makes me wonder why a student’s hairstyle is a school issue. Last time I checked, locs can’t tragically take the lives of innocent students. 

After hearing the news of Darryl George and watching his interview, his words stuck with me. In the interview, George says, “There’s been a lot of emotions on me — anger, sadness.”

He further states, “It feels very lonely when you’re the only one stuck in a room for a whole semester, a whole year.”

His words made me question how students internalize their experiences in a world that punishes them for trying to respect both their cultural practices and school policy. Isn’t school a place where students receive recognition for their intelligence, physical abilities, and collaboration with others? How do disciplinary actions because of dress code violations affect students’ self-esteem and sense of self? How can we replace judgment with acceptance?

The answers to these questions may come from taking a more progressive approach, such as cultural awareness training among school educators. Also, the adaptations of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) have led to less harmful student behavior and acceptable and cohesive behavior for children K–12.

As I reflect on the situation, I remember my high school experiences. I remember always being concerned about my hair. I was often worried about what my peers would think of me in certain hairstyles. However, my mom was more concerned about how the adults would perceive me. She ensured my hair was pressed, straightened, braided, or put in some “acceptable” hairstyle so that I wouldn’t be mistreated or judged by adults or staff members. 

I empathize with any student who can’t go to school to learn because of how their hair naturally grows out of their head.

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