After having read an article in the New York Times about an 11 year old girl being sent home because she was wearing hair extensions, I immediately became curious. This young lady happens to attend a private school in Louisiana. One might expect or assume that this happens, most likely, in a public school. But no….this time it is at a private school!
What’s the message being sent to children[girls and boys] of color? How does hair become a factor of learning and academic performance? What’s unacceptable and who determines what is acceptable or accepted in learning environments regarding hair, culturally determined? Children attend school to learn and despite clothes, hair, race or ethnicity, these are not learning tools. They are personal, familial, parental, student choices-no determinant of behavior, performance, capacity or engagement.
Do we need a lesson in black hair care? It should be explored as a component of cultural competence awareness and sensitivity, though. For children, girls of color, hair maintenance is and can be very time-consuming or even cumbersome, but prideful as well. It is a matter of texture and can be considered high maintenance. Some women of color refuse to apply chemicals and straightening products to their hair, particularly when it pertains to young girls. For the most part, their hair is considered ‘virgin’ hair, and should not be compromised in such ways. Many black women can recall some heartfelt stories of chemical relaxers gone bad, and do not wish to subject young girls to the sometimes, failed results from hair products designed to alter the natural texture of their hair.
Far easier is it for parents to braid hair[with extensions] than to send their child to school with hair that may appear ‘unkempt’ or disheveled’ to some. God forbid, that because of some social pressure to conform to the white standards of beauty, when it comes to hair, they succumb to such pressures and subject their child’s hair and scalp and skin to unnatural chemicals. So, what do parents do on occasion in order to give their child’s hair a rest from tugging and pulling each day? They choose braided hairstyles. Besides being an African tradition for hair care, braids also make very distinct statements to their society. In certain African countries, braided hair styles can identify royalty, tribal affiliation, social status, etc….
Here in America and all over the world, braided hair styles are personal statements. Such creativity, artistry and precision! Practically speaking, wearing braids, especially for children, is considered neater, requires less daily maintenance, and to many people, is an attractive choice. Unlike hair of most Caucasians, black hair responds well to braids. It tends to grow longer, more healthy follicles develop. Fewer split ends, and for black mothers, it is a God-sent solution to getting out of bed an hour earlier than usual, just to keep hair neatly coiffed.
Do we know how many little girls experience pain when they get their hair combed every day? Many mothers use hot combs regularly to tame the hair, or make it more manageable. But, too much heat can damage black hair, too. Breakages, and other unwanted effects result from just the heated comb itself. For girls with rather short hair, it can be difficult trying to gather it all to place in a single or two ponytails without excess pulling and manipulation of the hair and scalp. As long as it is clean, free from lice, which is not generally characteristic of black hair, how could it compromise the learning process? Just another reason to deny education and achievement through equal opportunity and access. Oh yes…freedom of choice.
Health, safety and hygiene should be the main concerns for school environments, not hair style. That insults cultural and personal choice. Would it be acceptable if hair were ‘nappy’, which still is personal and culturally defined? What about ‘afros’? Schools, educators and administrators are better served to cease inadvertently insulting cultures, and contributing to ethnic confusion, because of euro-centric values. Remember, diversity, inclusion, cultural competence and the ‘whole child’ perspective in the 21st Century!
How do we expect a parent to respond to this?
I realize that this is a conversation nobody wants to have, but if we don’t address these ‘small’ displays of bias, then we will continue hitting brick walls. How does one rightfully, respectfully address a parent, a child….because of hairstyle? No swastikas carved into hair, or profane words, just braids and/or hair extensions!
This is not even exclusive to blacks, but chemical straighteners, curl perms and hair extensions are universally worn. In fact, braided hair styles are now universal also, whether one large braid or micro-braids! Is anyone old enough to remember the movie “10” with Bo Derek? So, what’s the difference? There is a huge difference when we are essentially insulting, degrading and judging personal choices based on one’s personal or societally-imposed values and ideas of ‘beauty’. One thing is certain, when we blame little children for hair styles and related choices, we are blaming, punishing and judging their parents. And, in that mode, it doesn’t matter whether your 11 year old attends public or private school. Black hair is and will always be just hair! Read the article below.