I imagine that my expertise with college students contained in the classroom informs, to an important measure, the work that I do right this moment as a college range, fairness and inclusion (DEI) chief. A trainer at coronary heart who values neighborhood, I usually mirror on my previous experiences with college students and the methods we explored, celebrated and guarded our cultural identification. Whereas there are alternatives to do that inside the educational curriculum, my Black college students’ cultural identification is usually mirrored in how they put on and elegance their hair.
In Black hair, we discover artwork, creativity, historical past and connection. Black hair carries such dignity and excessive regard within the Black neighborhood that it’s sometimes called our crown. At any given second, I might gaze throughout the classroom and watch these crowns take the type of braids, Bantu knots, buns, twists, coils, curls, locs, lineups, elements, waves, puffs and afros.
Sadly, these crowns, as lovely and various as they’re, stay beneath scrutiny in our college techniques. Once I come throughout information studies or a analysis research that highlights the race-based discrimination that Black college students expertise in U.S. colleges, significantly because it pertains to Black hairstyles, I turn out to be indignant and agitated. Observing the impression this policing has on Black college students, together with the scholars I’ve taught, I really feel referred to as to work alongside my college students to problem these techniques and racialized perceptions about their hair.
Inevitably, this work settled into our curriculum as I designed a collaborative unit that invited college students to discover the historic, social, political, and cultural context of Black hair and the way we will reclaim it.
How Black Hair Grew to become Political
“No Coloured or Inappropriate Hairstyles Allowed.”
This was the rule codified within the scholar handbook of the college I referred to as house through the first two years of my educating profession. Throughout my tenure as an English language arts trainer, I witnessed the policing of Black hair in colleges on a systemic and interpersonal stage. College students have come to my desk in tears as a result of their hair didn’t match the “normal” of what’s thought of acceptable or applicable within the college setting, fearful that they might be penalized or publicly shamed.
Faculty insurance policies that racialize conventional Black hairstyles as unkempt and unprofessional have positioned targets on Black college students that not solely impression their shallowness but in addition their capacity to interact with their educational research. In accordance with a 2021 analysis research by Dove, 53 p.c of Black moms revealed that their daughters skilled racial discrimination due to their hair — some as younger as 5 years outdated. The research finds that these numbers rise for Black youngsters who attend predominantly White establishments.
As we will see from current information protection of Black college students being suspended or reprimanded for his or her hair, Okay-12 colleges proceed to perpetuate racial discriminatory practices, which adversely impacts Black college students’ capacity to really feel a way of belonging of their college communities. The problem shouldn’t be Black hair. The problem is how the system regulates Black hair.
It’s (Not) Simply Hair!
From the time I used to be a baby, social norms ruled my hair. Whether or not my mom pressed my hair on the range with a hotcomb for Easter Sunday or my sister braided my hair into intricate and geometric designs, society marked my hair, and in some instances, thought of it a disruption to social order.
I particularly recall being confronted with societal perceptions of Black hair whereas competing in my highschool mock trial competitors. Earlier than every competitors, I pulled my micro braids again into a decent bun and eliminated all my hair equipment. These of us who had been Black college students on the mock trial crew selected hairstyles that didn’t disrupt the social order or trigger a distraction. Whereas we had been a extremely aggressive and respected crew, we nonetheless felt the expectation to evolve and cling to social norms which are inherently anti-Black.
I shared these experiences with my college students, and unsurprisingly, they may relate. For a lot of of my college students, I used to be their first, and in some instances, their solely Black trainer. My college students had been filled with insights and opinions on the subject of Black hair, and our discussions round hair and cultural expression reached depths usually unexplored within the classroom setting. Contemplating my very own hair expertise in colleges and my college students’ varied responses to hairstyles, I needed to know extra about what hair means to them, what their hair means to their tradition, and what it means for them as college students.
At all times keen to write down about themselves and their lived experiences, I instantly modified their morning writing project and requested: What’s your hair story?
Of their responses, I noticed a wealthy tapestry of cultural identity-forming that usually goes unexplored and unacknowledged within the schooling setting. Their tales centered on hair milestones, revolutionary styling strategies, hair disgrace and racial profiling they skilled due to their hair.
Seizing the chance to expound on their engagement and curiosity, I began creating a unit that will enable my college students to discover their hair story and invite them to construct an area that affirms the wealthy range of our hair.
The Black Hair Story Undertaking
For this mission I affectionately referred to as “Hair Story”, college students had been tasked with sharing a narrative of hair by way of a historic, social or political lens, working individually or in teams. Exploring, researching, studying and crafting collectively was a trademark of this expertise. As college students had been working, there was a gaggle of younger women creating a spoken phrase efficiency that honored the flexibility of Black hair previously, current and future.
“So, Ms. Watson,” Jamaria stated excitedly as she approached my desk. “We need to fake that the stage is a magnificence salon and we’re every gonna put on the hairstyles that we’re speaking about within the poem. It will likely be just like the coiffure is speaking to the viewers.” Throughout their efficiency, these younger women launched, affirmed and celebrated braids, bantu knots, press and curls, and afros by way of spoken phrase.
However, one other scholar, Kenneth, determined to work alone as he interviewed barbers on the barbershop the place he bought his hair minimize along with his father each different Saturday. I recall that he started his presentation with a two-minute clip from “The Barbershop”, a comedic drama a couple of day within the lifetime of a barbershop on the south facet of Chicago.
From this clip, we understood the Black barbershop to be a cultural staple within the Black neighborhood worthy of funding and safety. As soon as the clip ended, Kenneth linked this fictional Black barbershop to his personal barbershop that he patronized since he was 4 years outdated.
With delight and confidence, Kenneth launched us to the barber workers with pictures. He talked about their path to turning into barbers, varied barber instruments and their operate, haircut types and costs, neighborhood help by way of fundraisers and free haircuts, in addition to the steps college students can take themselves to turn out to be barbers.
Whereas the scholar handbook created angst and trauma for Black college students, we created a secure surroundings to discover and rejoice this side of our cultural identification within the classroom. In our classroom, Black hair was not one thing to mark as applicable or inappropriate. Black hair didn’t include an inventory of expectations and penalties. Black hair was free and versatile. By way of this course of, we had been capable of reclaim the facility of our Black hair.
Defending Black Hair in Faculties
As I mirror on the connections, pleasure and challenges I skilled as my college students and I explored the various aspects of Black hair, my hope is that my classroom and my college students’ experiences encourage extra educators and college leaders to know: for Black college students, hair holds nice cultural worth and identification expression.
The racial hair discrimination that many Black college students face disrupts their studying expertise and complicates social identification. For them, we should transfer away from demanding that they compromise items of their cultural identification to suit right into a puzzle that’s too inflexible for his or her progress and well-being.
We should take motion to help Black college students’ proper to put on their cultural hairstyles with out disgrace or consequence, and we will begin by signing the pledge to finish hair discrimination in workplaces and colleges.