The Genetic Makeup of a Black Girl is Not Fit for a Learning Environment?

You are a black girl. You attend the local elementary school, you are a straight-A student, and you’ve won the school spelling bee two years in a row. You pride yourself in your math skills and you spend long hours on your science projects. One morning you wake up. This morning starts off just like any other day.

Your mother sits you down to tend to your (natural) hair while you eat your Cheerios, and then she walks you to the bus stop. On the bus, you talk to your friends and you all imagine what the cafeteria would be serving for lunch that day.

You get to the school and you make your way to the door, ready for another day of learning. Then the principal stops you. She adjusts her glasses and furrows her brows disapprovingly before saying,

“Little black girl, your hair is unacceptable.”

A few days ago, Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced a very similar incident. You see, Miss Parker has locks, a hairstyle that is primarily worn by black people. It is also a hairstyle that does not need any chemical processing or heat alteration. However, her hair style violates Deborah Brown Community School’s dress code:

“Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”

Faddish? Last time I checked having an afro wasn’t a fad.

To insist that a hairstyle is a fad even though it derives from one’s genetic make-up is probably one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard. It’s like going up to an Asian person and saying, “Hey, your black hair is too much of a fad, go change it,” or going up to a white person and saying, “your blue eyes are too much of a fashion statement for this school, you might want to go change that.”

Outrageous right? But do these particular accusations occur? I don’t think so. In fact, as I was driving around Birmingham, Alabama—a city that is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights movement— when I caught sight of a flower shop with a sign that proudly read:

“Get a free rose if your eyes are blue.”

Why would a school have a dress code that attacks genetics? Well, it probably has something to do with a lack of knowledge.

In 2010 Oklahoma was about 7.4% Black and 72.2% White. It’s pretty unlikely that a mass migration of black people to Oklahoma occurred between 2010 and 2013, so I imagine that the figures haven’t really changed that much. So what do these statistics say?

Forget red state, blue state, Oklahoma is pretty darn white.

However, photos of Deborah Brown Community School classes and students imply that the school’s students are predominantly black. Would this mean that the people writing the rules are black too? Probably not.

Most white people don’t understand black hair, and while they aren’t expected to be experts, they should at least know what can and cannot be helped when it comes to its health and maintenance if they are making rules about it.

Obviously your average white person wouldn’t know what happens when it comes to chemically processed black hair. They don’t know what it feels like to get a relaxer to keep their afro-textured hair straight. I’ve heard white women making fun of black women for patting their heads instead of scratching their scalps when they have an itch. Yet these women do not know about how much a relaxer burns a scratched scalp.

A relaxer can be described as

“…a type of lotion or cream which makes hair less curly, and easier to straighten by chemically “relaxing” the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead.”

The definition makes relaxers sound like a miracle hair lotion, right?

But until you’ve experienced the burning sensation of chemicals melting away your curl pattern, you have no idea. Until you have walked out of the beauty salon with scabs and scars under your newly straightened head of hair, you have no idea. Until you have experienced the intense itching caused by your naturally curly hair trying to grow its way through the chemically straightened hair, you have no flipping idea—and the beauty of all of this is that there is no scratching allowed. So until society stops pushing black women in the direction of chemically straightening their hair, scratching is a white privilege. Despite what the dress code argues, Miss Parker’s locks are actually pretty well-groomed.

Here’s a fact that some black people don’t even know:

Theres a difference between Locks and Dreadlocks.

Locks require frequent maintenance. When they grow they must be tamed and re-twisted periodically and there is an active attempt to keep each lock at a consistent diameter. They are neater, allowing their wearers to enjoy an easily manageable and modest hair style.

Dreadlocks are a completely different story. Most people confuse locks with dreadlocks, while the process of dreadlocks is very different. In fact, the entire premise of the hair style is buildt upon just letting it grow. Dreadlocks are a result of very little interference. Therefore, the locks tend to mat and have irregular sizes.

Dreadlocks are also associated with the Rastafarian lifestyle. Some even consider Rasta to be a religion which makes me question whether these dress code rules are violating the first amendment rights of people who follow Rasta as a spiritual way of life.

Fun fact, when I looked up the phrase true dreadlocks on Google images, the very first images consisted of a bucket load of white people with dreadlocks and Bob Marley.

I was particularly offended by a Yahoo Shine article written by Nadine Kalinauskas.

She compared Miss Parker’s incident to Rylee MacKay’s. MacKay was an older student who was kicked out of school for dyeing their hair auburn and while I’m all for self-expression, the social implications attached to her incident weren’t nearly as serious as the ones attached to Miss Parker’s.

She then ends her article by saying,

“School boards of the world, hair is not the enemy. And, parents, maybe it’s time to read the dress-code rules before sending your kids to school.”

While she does admit that hair isn’t the true enemy in schools and that rules should be followed, she doesn’t seem to realize that non-white parents shouldn’t have to succumb to a dress code that requires their child to assimilate into the white standards of beauty (straight hair), especially if they go against the grain of their genetics.

Rylee MacKay chose to dye her hair while Tiana Parker had no way of choosing the hair texture she was born with. Rylee’s problem can easily be fixed by a few weeks of fading while little Tiana has to soak her head in a vat of chemicals, cry out in pain, then go over her newly damaged hair with a hot comb.

Hm… I wonder who has the bigger problem.

Let’s end this article with a conversation I had with an acquaintance.

We were talking about natural hair and its relationship with the corporate world, and I asked him if he thought that it was fair for employers to ban natural hair from the work place.

After a few seconds of silence he said yes. He insisted that if companies had a certain image they wanted to keep up and if black women really wanted the job, they should be willing to do whatever they had to do to fit in.

He then went on to say that the same thing applied to people who had tattoos or piercings. I replied by saying that the people with obvious tattoos chose to get them and the people with piercings could take them in and out, but that in the end it was their choice. Then I asked about people who were considered to be obese (which in some cases isn’t voluntary) and people who had physical disabilities, and he said that if they didn’t fit the company’s look, they shouldn’t get the job.

Even if what he said was true, should the same apply to children in grade school? Should children be forced to leave school because of the texture of their hair or the color of their eyes? Why should Miss Parker have to earn her education by defying her genetics? By making a pact to reject her natural self? A child shouldn’t have to earn an education. You earn college, you earn a job, but you should never have to earn the opportunity to learn at such a young age, especially over something so trivial.

I don’t know how good at teaching the educators at Deborah Brown Community School are, but they’ve certainly taught me something..

If the genetic makeup of a black girl is not appropriate for a learning environment, then we as humans have a very long path ahead of us.

So pack your lunchbox wisely America, this is going to be a long, long bus ride.


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