The recent case of DeAndre Arnold, a black Texas teen of Trinidadian extraction, who is not being allowed to walk the stage to celebrate his graduation because of a hairstyle is not as unique as you might think. I have a personal stake in this argument because my grandson’s Mom and Dad [my son] have been cultivating his hair since birth. He is now 14 and has never had a haircut. He has worn his hair, over the years, in a variety of geometric cornrow or canerow styles and his ‘Locs’ are now below his ears and collar when he does not wear it up with a clip or headband. He is a polite child, well-read and studious. If you wonder why I felt it necessary to use those last descriptive words in relation to a story about hair discrimination, I hope you read further.
In May of 2016 Amite High School student Andrew Jones, located in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, was not allowed to perform the honor he earned as class valedictorian because the 4.0-grade point student sported a goatee. The reasons in both cases were the implementation of archaic dress codes directed at the lengths and styles of their hair growth; or is it? When I graduated high school in the 70s we wore Afros, to the chagrin of some of our parents, but they allowed for the expression they were denied. The generation before us was forced into assimilation with hot combs, perms, and men conking their hair, neither natural nor Afrocentric.
My junior high school English teacher wore a dashiki and afro in defiance to make more of a statement than incur a battle because my school was 80% minority. Several years later, in 1976, Beverly Jenkins, then an employee for Blue Cross, won a discrimination suit over her natural hairstyle—an afro, after being told, she “could never represent Blue Cross” with an Afro. In 2018 high-schooler, Andrew Johnson was forced to subject himself to humiliation, by publicly having his locs shorn, or forfeit a high school wrestling match in New Jersey. These incidents are and have been repeated for years and it is long past time for the world to catch up to Afro and Caribbean-centric stylings and culture.
Or is it really a problem of fear?
It is not an accident that a preponderance of black male TV reporters, especially younger men are clean-shaven, it appears ‘less threatening’ as I was once told on an audition. Much like, as was the idiotic excuse of the “hoodie” used as valid reasoning for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, black men with locs or facial hair evokes a visceral reaction for some. The late George H.W. Bush knew this when he approved the Willie Horton political ad. Grimacing, disheveled and bearded Willie Horton became the face of justification for exaggerated white fear.
As a kid, I watched the singing group The Temptations fling their chemically aided hairstyles in the air sometimes falling in their faces. America loved seeing James Brown’s processed bouffant flap and wave when he camel-walked across the stage. A relative once told me in the early 80s, half-jokingly, that the Jheri-curl will save the black man’s hair. Fortunately, the awakening of young black men and women ushered in awareness and liberated the black community of the phrase “good hair.” Texas, Mr. Arnold’s locs are not the problem, the Texas Barbers Hill Independent School District is…
Vote in 2020 for Change.