Resources for Teachers and Students
FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 17, 2020
Attention focuses on school and work hairstyle policies that affect mainly African Americans
Read coverage involving race and tell why it's in the news.
Share a quote from an education-related article.
Is your school district or another local one in the newspaper? Summarize why.
DeAndre Arnold, 18, didn't expect to make national headlines during his senior year at a high school near Houston. But that's what happened after he was suspended last month for refusing to cut his shoulder-length dreadlock hairstyle, a stance his parents support. School policy prohibits male students' hair from falling below their eyebrows or ears. Attention generated by news coverage of Arnold's punishment includes an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and attendance at the Oscars ceremony Feb. 9 as the guest of a filmmaker who won an Academy Award for an animated short called "Hair Love." The issue at stake isn't new and involves more than one student in one district. In 2018, a 16-year-old high school wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before competing. In an Atlanta suburb last year, a public elementary school displayed several photos of black children, including girls with braids, to illustrate "inappropriate" hair.
"The U.S. Army, several American businesses and schools in the past have attempted to prohibit the expression of black hair — a historical bias as old as America itself," education professor Richard Reddick, an education professor at the University of Texas, writes in an Austin American-Statesman newspaper column last week. "What messages are black students — or for that matter, all students — receiving about culture, identity and beauty through such policies? When students are told that their natural hair is a discipline problem, it affects their self-esteem and can lead to a negative view of their own racial and ethnic identity. It also sends a message to their peers that natural black hair is abhorrent and shameful." Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton echoes that concern: "It makes no sense that in 2020, black hair is still an issue in America. Braids, dreadlocks and Afros should be as acceptable as blond curly perms and man buns." Speaking of her own looks, she adds: "Sometimes I wear an Afro. Sometimes I wear it straight or wavy or twisted. Sometimes I have braids hanging down my back. Sometimes it is in crinkly curls."
In an effort to ensure fairness and clarity, California, New York and New Jersey now have laws that ban grooming policies affecting mainly African Americans in workplaces and public schools. A similar bill in Colorado would extend a prohibition against racial and ethnic discrimination to cover hairstyles — including the locks, twists, braids, and Afros worn by black people. "Schools need to protect our young people and educational professionals against bullying or termination based on hairstyle," says Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver. Cincinnati's City Council last fall made it illegal to discriminate against people with natural hair. And in Congress, more than three dozen Democratic representatives back a bill introduced two months ago to clarify that unlawful discrimination based on race or national origin includes hair texture and style. The legislative language specifically names dreadlocks, cornrows, twists and Bantu knots. Hairstyle bias is "a chronic issue that needs to be addressed very aggressively and boldly," says Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit.
Student says: "How smart I am, what job I'm going to get — my hair doesn’t determine that. I determine that." – DeAndre Arnold, suspended teen in Mont Belvieu, Texas
Columnist says: "It has been more than a half-century since Afros became a cultural fixture in America, yet mainstream society still insists that natural black hair is inappropriate in certain situations. In its narrow and biased wisdom, white-dominated society tries to force black people to only wear styles it considers aesthetically pleasing." – Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune
Texas professor says: "This focus on black people’s natural hair can have a devastating impact on students' self-esteem and their academic abilities. . . . We need to focus on what’s inside our students’ heads." – Richard Reddick, University of Texas associate professor of education
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