September 24, 2021

Why are we still Policing Hairstyles? 

My home state of New Jersey is one of 14 states in the United States that has adopted the CROWN Act.

CROWN is an acronym for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. The mission of the CROWN Act, as stated on their site, is “to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.”

The CROWN Act movement advances the idea that “people should not be forced to divest themselves of their racial-cultural identity by changing their natural hair in order to adapt to predominantly white spaces in the workplace or in school.”

Here’s one example: A mixed-race student in a Michigan public school had her hair cut at school by another student. Her parents took her to a hairdresser to fix it. A teacher at the school decided to “fix” it too, cutting most of the seven-year-old’s textured hair off. Her father has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan school district for the incident, which drew national attention. It certainly drew mine, who thinks they can just cut a child’s hair without the knowledge of the parents?

White people care what their hair looks like, Donald Trump has a majestic comb-over. It’s not like someone can’t understand that a hairstyle is a big deal. That is probably the core of the impulse to police hair at this level. In 2018, Andrew Johnson, a New Jersey high school wrestler was told to cut his locs or forfeit a match. Despite the fact that a head covering was an option under the rules, the acting referee gave ninety seconds to comply or take the disqualification. In front of everyone at the match, he submitted to a haircut given by the team trainer.

Hairstyle policing can include not allowing beads or longer dreadlocks for Black students. Written through the lens of a white person with white person hair, these rules do not reflect the diversity of the student bodies as a whole. Deandre Arnold wore his hair long, his Trinidadian heritage showing through his dreadlocks. He was suspended from his Texas school for months as his case made its way to a U.S. District Court, waiting to see if he would be able to attend his graduation ceremony. The court ruled that the dress code was discriminatory.

It’s not just appearance either, your hair can be your crown. In some cultures cutting hair is a religious rite, like with the Lakota tribe. A person’s spirit lives within their hair, if you cut their hair, part of their spirit is taken from them. Forced haircuts are a manifestation of centuries of cultural whitewashing—it was once a practice to remove Native American and First Nations children from their tribe, cut their hair, and try to assimilate them through adoptions into white families.

In the spring of 2020, two Native American girls in rural Nebraska had haircuts administered by their school, for lice control. The lice were never actually discovered. The Lakota mothers offered cultural sensitivity training to the school system after explaining the significance of what the school had done to their children. The school replied that they won’t cut hair anymore and no further training is necessary.

The idea that cultural sensitivity training isn’t necessary, that if someone just stops doing the one thing for which they are being sued is enough, negates the whole idea that an entire culture is worth learning about. Schools have Black students, Asian students, Native American students, Latine students, and Hispanic ones. Knowing more about the cultures of the students you are teaching is never a bad idea. 

Using a power imbalance to dismiss the feelings and needs of another person is damaging to them. The CROWN Act website has resources for getting involved in the other 43 states and for implementing the act at the federal level.

Hair is part of one’s identity. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to fit in, you belong just the way you are. 


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