In a disturbing case of déjà vu, another six-year-old is being turned away from school for wearing his natural hairstyle.
Texas-based writer T.L. Browning posted to Twitter in early January, understandably furious that her son Jonathan was ordered to cut his locs over the winter break before being allowed to return to school when classes at Spring Valley Elementary School in Hewitt, Texas, resumed on Jan. 8. As reported by Yahoo Lifestyle:
A flier sent home with the first-grader before the winter break outlined Midway Independent School District’s dress code policies, with the portion on hairstyles highlighted in yellow. According to the letter, “hair must not be lower than the bottom of the ears or collar in the back.” A handwritten note instructs the boy to “please cut by Jan. 8th.”
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because a similar scenario played out in September, when six-year-old Clinton Stanley, Jr. was turned away from the first day at his private elementary in Florida for having dreadlocks. In fact, this is just the latest in a series of discriminatory incidents involving black students (and student athletes and employees) denied access to school, work or sporting events, due to their choice to wear locs.
In a firestorm of tweets, Browning (born Tiffany Brown) rightfully called out the mandate as “racist & gendered”
“I won’t conform to racist policies,” she tweeted.
Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle, Browning confirmed that there had been no preamble to the flier she received, making the arbitrary requirement even more insulting.
“Children of color have been targeted for many years, because of what others see as the norms in our society,” she said. “Because of these norms that are blinding people in our society, some people have stated that dreadlocks are a fashion statement and my child should conform and express himself when he’s older. Dreadlocks are part of my African culture, not a fashion statement.
“Dreadlocks have been a symbol of beauty and strength for many years,” she continued. “During slavery, everything was stripped from my people. Now, this is happening. So, basically, it’s a form of control and bondage. ... Only recently, people of color/African descent have come to accept and love their natural hair. To hear someone say it’s not enough or that my hair should blend with others, that’s not right.”
In defiance of the mandate, Browning sent Jonathan back to school with his locs undisturbed on Jan. 8, causing him to be called to the school’s administrative office under the guise of discussing his holiday vacation. He was allegedly instead asked about his hair and purportedly discouraged from keeping his dreadlocks—all without a parent in attendance.
“My son Jonathan went from loving his hair yesterday to opting to cut his hair today, after this meeting,” Browning said. “Yesterday, he loved his hair and didn’t want it cut; today he’s frustrated and doesn’t, after speaking with a school official.” Browning maintains that her son’s “meeting” was entirely inappropriate, saying that a “meeting with an adult speaking about his hair being an issue without my presence will not be tolerated.”
In defense of its actions and policies, Texas’ Midway Independent School District sent a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, insisting their policy isn’t racially discriminatory.
Midway ISD has implemented dress and grooming standards for decades. The policy is established to teach grooming and hygiene, prevent disruption and minimize safety hazards. Even when the policy has incrementally evolved through revisions over time, the length of male students’ hair has been a subject of periodic debate over several decades. In other words, male students wanting to have long hair is not new.
Nevertheless, what IS new is a social media claim this past weekend that Midway’s hair code is racially discriminatory. Since the code applies to all students, it is not discriminatory in intent or by legal standards. Students are expected to adhere to the current dress code, which was acknowledged by every student’s guardian at registration. However, any parent may submit documentation to the campus administration requesting a possible exemption to the dress and grooming standards for a sincerely held religious belief. These letters are reviewed carefully by campus administration and determined on a case-by-case basis.
Midway ISD is committed to serving our students’ unique academic, social, emotional and physical needs, including continual reviews of policies and procedures that affect such needs. We appreciate parents and community members interested in partnering with us to make Midway an inclusive place where all students are welcomed and valued, regardless of race, color, religion, gender or ability. As a district, we are dedicated and open to questions, concerns and input.
Are they, though? As has been well documented by this point, dreadlocks aren’t simply a decision to wear “long hair,” but a commitment that has deep cultural and often religious connections and connotations.
“My son’s hair is a part of him. Hair grows from the scalp; this is a part of his body. How can parents teach kids to love themselves and then a school is telling them differently?” Browning asked. Notably, as of press time, a spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo that the district had still not spoken directly with Browning about the issue.
“The school is saying you’re not enough! My son is not enough for them,” she surmised. “Now, they’re asking him to alter his body, because they don’t like it.”
Browning doesn’t like it either and has no plans on acquiescing to the school’s request or to stop speaking out on the issue that has increasingly been affecting so many naturally-haired children.
“My plans are to go as far as needed to ensure the rights and liberties of every child are respected and protected,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Not only for children of color, but for every child.”