Posted on March 10, 2020

Black Students Say They Are Being Penalized for Their Hair, and Experts Say Every Student Is Worse Off Because of It

Leah Asmelash, CNN, March 8, 2020

High school senior Asia Simo loves being a cheerleader. In her final year, she even gave up soccer — another sport she played — to focus solely on what mattered to her the most: cheering.

But with just eight games left in this year’s season, the 17-year-old was suddenly kicked off the team after three years at Captain Shreve High School in Louisiana. The reason? Her hair, her family says, which was too thick for the “half up, half down” standard the team required for a number of games. Asia accumulated demerits for having her hair out of uniform, which led to her eventual dismissal, despite not being an issue in previous years, her mother Rosalind Calloway told CNN.

Asia’s story is part of a larger trend across the US, where more and more black students say they are being penalized for their hair.

The problem lies in the policies, experts say, which don’t necessarily take into account an increasingly diverse student body, to the detriment of mostly black and biracial schoolchildren.

These rules hurt every student, even if it’s unintentional

Similar incidents have happened across the country: in Kentucky; in Louisiana; in New Jersey; in Texas. And those are just incidents from the last few years that attracted social media attention and were reported in the news.

Just this year, high school senior DeAndre Arnold was told he couldn’t walk at graduation unless he cut his dreadlocks. His case captured the attention of Gabrielle Union, Alicia Keys and even Ellen DeGeneres — who personally asked the school district to reconsider.

Most school administrators cite policies and regulations as reason — and rules are rules, after all.

But the rules are culturally insensitive, Calloway told CNN.


Lily Eskelsen García is the president of the National Education Association, the largest teacher union in the country. She’s also a sixth-grade teacher in Utah, and she agrees with Calloway that the rules aren’t always inclusive.

When asked about how these rules come about, she said it comes down to a misconception about what’s “normal” and what’s not. Dreadlocks, braids, hair texture, hijabs, and so on? Those things are not “normal.”

“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 — she pointed out that in Utah, it came about as a result of multi-colored and spiked hair during the punk years in the 1980s — that’s what these rules have become.

“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.”

These mindsets, García continued, have detrimental effects for every student in classrooms.


With more laws and training, there may be room for hope

At the end of the tunnel, though, there may be some light.


More districts are also providing workshops centered on cultural competency, meant to raise awareness among educators about the way race and culture impacts education, as well as build anti-racist curriculums. {snip}

There’s been movement legally, too. Three states — California, New York and New Jersey — have adopted legislation banning hair discrimination, and Virginia just followed suit this week. Similar bills are making their way through Colorado, Washington and Minnesota.