UPDATE BELOW WITH INFO ON A CHANGE.ORG PETITION
When I saw the video (see link below) of little Tiana Parker crying because her school disapproved of her locks, it broke my heart.
Tiana is the straight A student who attended Deborah Brown Community School. At least she did attend the school until her father Terrance Parker was forced to enroll her elsewhere because of the school’s anti-Black hair policy.
That’s right. Tiana’s hair is locked and according to the school’s dress code,
Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable. For safety reasons, girl’s weaved hair should be no longer than shoulder length…
Long time readers will remember the last time I addressed a similar issue and the politics were much the same. As I said there,
No matter how you choose to wear your hair, wearing Black hair in Black styles is not a revolutionary act. Wearing Black hair the way it grows out of my Black head is part of my civil and human right as a Black woman… If you are White and my hair makes you uncomfortable—you need to assess your racism and process that in your own space. But using your power to make policy that discriminates against my hair is a violation of my civil and human rights (aka it’s racist).
If you are Black and my hair makes you uncomfortable—you need to assess your internalized White supremacy and work that out on your own time (That was for you Hampton University!). But using your discomfort to make me uncomfortable is a throwback to Black overseers and is a powerful reminder of the injury self hate can cause.
Just Who Is the Deborah Brown Community School?
Now this is interesting.
At first glance one might assume that it was a White school administration that implemented the rule against “dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles.” But that would be incorrect.
When you check out the school’s website you quickly find that the school board is comprised of six Black men. The school administration is comprised of two Black men and two Black women. Out of the eight teachers who have pictures featured on the website four are Black.
Which makes this issue that much more complicated.
My husband always reminds me that one of the worst things about racism is how we have been trained to see ourselves. You see it is one thing when our community has to fight against institutional racism or racism in general. It’s one thing when the “enemy” is someone from the outside.
It’s another when we are forced to deal with the fact that the people perpetuating hurtful racist stereotypes look like us.
But deal with it we must. So to the leadership of the Deborah Brown Community School, this is for you.
As Black Educators You Should Know Better
You may not know it—although you should since you are the leadership of what looks like a predominantly Black school—but your actions towards Tiana and students who wear natural hair are not only highly racist but they are symbolic of the evil of internalized self-hate.
But more importantly, standards like yours which discriminate against Black hair are directly contrary to the academic needs of Black students.
There is a plethora of research that demonstrates that “culturally responsive pedagogy and positive racial identity promote academic achievement and resilience.” This means that for little Black girls like Tiana, it is imperative that they have access to educational environments that support their specific needs as Black kids and validates their culture.
As Black educators, you should know that.
As reported over at Clutch Magazine new study out of Harvard & University of Pittsburgh found that
“racial socialization”—teaching kids about their culture and involving them in activities that promote racial pride and connection [you know like learning to love and embrace the hair that grows out of your head]—helps to offset the discrimination and racial prejudices children face by the outside world.
One of the researchers stated
When African American parents instill a proud, informed, and sober perspective of race in their sons and daughters, these children are more likely to experience increased academic success… Our study provides empirical evidence that the longstanding practice in the African American community of cultivating racial pride and preparing children to face racial bias in society should be considered among appropriate and beneficial practices in parenting Black children.
Black Hair As A Norm
Black hair is normal for Black girls and boys. Black hairstyles are normal for Black children. That sounds so simplistic that it actually pisses me off that I have to say it.
Though this story makes me upset, I thank God that little Tiana has a father like Terrance Parker. A Black man who believes in his child’s right to wear the hair that grows out of her head. It gives me a lot of comfort to know that despite the fact that Tiana had to learn about intra-community self hate at an early age, she has a father who is in tune with her needs as a Black child and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her right to be and look like a Black girl.
I envy my White friends who can simply wake up, comb their kid’s hair and never have to consider whether or not the hairstyle is too “White” to be acceptable. Another benefit of White privilege…
A Call to Action
Natural hair community, once again it is time to act. Even though Tiana is now at a new school, there are other children at Deborah Brown whose very right to be and look like Black children must be protected.
As noted by the research mentioned above, this is not some superficial right. It is a right that is directly related to those kids’ self-esteem and will greatly impact their connection to academic success.
We were forced to evaluate our hair and concept of beauty through the eyes of Others. But when evaluating yourself through someone else’s eyes, it is very important to understand how those eyes were trained to view you.
If those Other eyes see ugliness when they see you, if they see nappy-headed, inferior women when they see you, if they see someone to be despised when they see you, then what will you see as you look through their eyes and see yourself?
If the root (pun intended) of the problem is in our learned self-hate – then the cure must be in learning how to truly love who we are, as we are.
But how do you unlearn self-hate? Well, as Albert Einstein once stated:
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.
So Black folks did not create self-hatred – but we are the only ones who can heal ourselves from it.
If you believe that these types of policies are racist and hurtful to Black children, then I encourage you to take action. I encourage you to let the school know that while we appreciate the fact that they are focusing on the academic needs of the children in the community, they cannot adequately meet those needs if they try to separate Black children from normal expressions of Blackness. I encourage you to contact them and let them know that these types of racist policies are harmful to the psyche of Black children and must be stopped.
The Deborah Brown Community School is located at 2 South Elgin Avenue. Tulsa, OK 74120. For convenience, the school also has an email contact form located here. You can also call them at (918) 425-1407.
Now that the natural hair community is beginning to thrive it is imperative that we are able to re-shape the way Black hair and Black features are addressed within our community. Like I’ve said before ladies—it’s bigger than just two strand twists versus a blow out. Hairstyles are great—but changing the standards of beauty within our community also requires us to get down to business.
And if you’re looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind, check out my book “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or e-book! And if you want to stay connected follow me on Twitter, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on my latest youtube videos!
UPDATE: INFO ON A CHANGE.ORG PETITION
I was just informed that Shelly Thomas of Tulsa, OK has started a petition to have this policy changed. In addition to contacting the school directly, I encourage you to review the petition and consider adding your name. H/T to Latasha Willis for sharing the link on the Facebook.com/AfroStateofMind page!