Natural Black Hair: The New Class in School

Curator's Note

Imagine transitioning to a new high school; having to navigate a new space, harder classes and awkward friendships. Seems like normal high school experiences, unless you also have to resolve how to style or adorn your hair according to the school’s grooming policies. This experience may not affect all students, but it has become commonplace for many Black students. We need only consider the incidents at a Kentucky high school where the school’s dress code listed certain hairstyles (read: Black) as a violation to the policy, (King, 2016) or Montverde Academy in Florida where 16-year old Nicole Orr was disciplined by administration for wearing her hair in a natural style (Tate, 2017). After the Kentucky high school students shared the disturbing news of the school’s dress code, parents and students alike protested to eventually have that section removed from the school handbook. Orr was told by a school administrator that her “dread like” hairstyle violated the dress code policy, which called for “[a] neat and organized look…that we are going for.” Although this is an issue for both Black boys and girls, the societal pressures of beauty standards make this a significant issue for young teenage girls. Muhammad and McArthur (2015) support this notion by stating “double jeopardy of being both Black and female in society has continued to create and reinforce a U.S. culture satiated with derogatory representations of Black women and girls” (p. 136). Harris (2017) states “discipline of Black and Brown children based on a different set of standards than their white peers cannot continue.” And Thompson (2009) acknowledges the impact hair has on young Black girls by stating “hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and, in turn, how you feel about yourself (p. 80). This could have a domino effect on some teenage girls. The way in which they feel about themselves could negatively impact their performance in school, creating limitations in their educational experiences. Educators need to take the stance towards ending this domino effect. By becoming educated on the impact of cultural aesthetics on self-esteem, they could connect more with students and create safe spaces for them to not only enhance their education but also develop positive images of self and acceptance.

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