It seems like the more people of African descent begin to love themselves, the more push back they receive from society. Why are we seeing more stories about policies against natural hair during a time when so many men and women are embracing their natural hair? Can we live?!
I’m sure by now that everyone has heard about school policies that ban “dread locs” and instances where schools have deemed a black child’s hair as “unkept hair” or “too messy” because they claim it violates the school’s hair policy. We’re not talking about Corporate America here, folks. We’re talking about elementary, junior high, high school and universities creating anti-natural hair policies. Before the students can even enter into the real world as adults, students are already learning hard lessons about how society views them. Society does not respect their natural beauty; instead, society would prefer they take on a more Euro-centric appearance for their own comfort.
The Impact of Exclusion
When reading the stories of the Ohio ban of afro puffs and twisted braids, Tiana Parker, and Vanessa Van Dyke, I thought, “What in the world is going on?” These are CHILDREN! Why on earth are they having to protect their right to wear the hair that grows out of their scalps? Why should anyone have to protect their right to … exist? These policies created to ensure the students’ hair is “presentable” leave the students with no choice but to wear weaves and relaxers. So, you’re going to now force the children to damage their scalps and self esteem with no shame? The excuse repeated in these different stories is that the school wants to keep up a certain image and the students should appear “presentable”. And what the heck is considered “presentable” or “college prep” anyway? To me, if the ponytail, braids, and dreads are all neat and well maintained, it should be acceptable. Sadly, we can’t even say that it’s all white folks enforcing these policies because some black people are involved as well. Natural hair is not a fad or trend and I can’t quite understand why the policy makers can’t see that. It’s ok to want your students to be well groomed and project a certain image, no argument there.
However, they need to be mindful of including people of color in this image and not excluding their natural beauty. Because the more you exclude them, the more it sounds a bit like coded language for Jim Crow 2.0. I mean it’s almost equivalent to putting up a “Whites Only” sign at the school. The only difference is that there may be some people of color promoting this sick practice of exclusion.
HBCUs are Not Exempt
The practice of discriminatory hair policies is widespread. Anti-natural hair policies are not only enforced on children, but also on young adults in business school. A black business school, mind you. When I first heard about the professional policies in the business school at Hampton University I thought, “No. No way.” It was shocking to hear, but not a surprise. I went to an HBCU and although our business school did not have policies against natural hair, it was understood that relaxed or clean cuts were more professional. From my experience at an HBCU and their business school, they do a great job of preparing you for Corporate America …only. I mean, they really do. Your speech, your resume, internships, and just your overall presentation are top notch and ready to compete in the corporate life.
From what I witnessed at this school and a few other HBCU’s, our schools groom you for the corporate world but neglect to prepare you for entrepreneurship and building the black community through economic empowerment. I say all that because if they promoted self-empowerment and growth, the focus would not be on approved hairstyles for Corporate America. Instead, it would be on creating ways to prevent young adults from relying on approval of the “Corporate American” standard. I understand that deep down, Hampton University is just trying to protect and prepare their students for challenges in Corporate America. But maybe it’s time we stop preparing for the corporate lane and start creating our own lane.
In the meantime, alumni and parents with students in schools where anti-natural hair policies exist should make their voices heard. At the end of the day, your donations are what help keep the lights on. If you speak, they have no choice but to listen, especially if alumni back up their position by withholding donations. As for grade schools promoting ridiculous policies against natural hair, parents must be willing to speak up for their children instead of agreeing to this exclusion. The parents in the stories mentioned above all believed that their children should have the freedom to be who they are without going through extremes to adhere to school policies.
What’s the Solution?
Perhaps public humiliation is what the schools need to make the change. Don’t wait for your child to be embarrassed to stay on top of policies like the ones mentioned. Ask questions and really investigate the policies in place for schools you are considering enrolling your child. We have to do our part to ensure that this type of exclusion will cease or else the disturbing cycle will never end. It’s about time we demand our natural beauty to be included, especially for the sake of our future generations.
How do you think we should solve the issue of hostile hair policies in schools? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.