Hair Discrimination Hurts Black Students at School

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Hair Discrimination Hurts Black Students at School

Schools upholding their view of “normal” could cause bullying and confusion about cultural norms, experts say.

Published March 9th

Written by BET Staff

Hair discrimination is not just at the workplace, it has found its way into the educational arena.

In December 2018, Andrew Johnson, a Black high school wrestler in New Jersey was humiliated and subjected to racial discrimination when a white referee with a history of racism forced him to cut his locs or forfeit his match.

In January, DeAndre Arnold from Texas went viral after being told he could not graduate or attend prom if he didn’t cut off his locs. 

Last month, Asia Simo, a 17-year-old from Louisiana, was kicked off her school’s cheerleading team due to her hair.

There have been numerous stories like this across the country and experts tell CNN, these selective rules hurt every student, not just students of color.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, who is also a sixth-grade teacher in Utah, said the idea of what is considered “normal” is what is causing problems for the students.

" 'Normal' looked like a white child's hair, and everything else is not normal," García said. Though it may not have been intended as an attack on racial or ethnic differences -- noting that in Utah, when 80s punk styles were in fashion, spiked and brightly colored hair was given deference. "It really is an attack on the culture that these children bring into their schools," she said. 

"You're saying the way you and your family dress, the way you and your family ... wear your hair, is wrong,” she said, stressing that school upholding their version of “normal” could cause bullying and confusion about cultural norms.

RELATED: Texas Teenager Told He Has To Cut His Locs To Graduate From High School

Tehia Glass, an associate professor of educational psychology and elementary education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, points out that most of these administrators are white and rules regarding how hair can be worn are not created with diversity in mind. "It's easier to say there's no bias rather than actually having to do the work. As opposed to, 'Wow, let's take a step back, let's look, help me see where you think the bias is.'"

Garcia also added, "They're going to look around and not know how to deal with something that they're not used to. And in some cases, that could translate into someone trying to restrict wearing a hijab, or not hiring someone who wears dreadlocks because you've been told that's wrong."

There have been demands for a change on a federal level. CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, which bans the discrimination of people based on their hair, has been passed in California, New York and New Jersey. In December 2019, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bill to make the CROWN Act law. 

Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

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