It’s Time to Stop Hair-Policing Children of Color (Racked)
The practice has a long and ugly history in the United States.
By Nadra Nittle, Racked, May 25, 2017
Luther Standing Bear first stepped inside of Carlisle Indian School at age 11 in 1879. The Oglala Sioux youth would later write in his memoir that he entered the boarding school, along with other indigenous children, “merely to show my people that I was brave enough to leave the reservation and go East, not knowing what it meant and not caring.”
What it meant was assimilation — speaking English only or else, donning Western attire so uncomfortable it hurt, and taking a European name at random. But when their interpreter told the students they would also have to cut their hair, they objected. Luther recalled the reasoning of one classmate: “If I am to learn the ways of the white man, I can do it just as well with my hair on.”
The other boys agreed, but they didn’t have a choice. One day, a group of white men trotted onto campus carrying large chairs. They sat the boys down and shaved their heads, one by one.
The newly bald Luther’s eyes filled with tears.
“I felt that I was no more Indian, but would be an imitation of a white man,” he wrote.
Nearly 140 years have passed since the inaugural group of students at Carlisle Indian School had their heads shaved, yet schools across the nation continue to enforce dress codes that target the natural or traditional hairstyles of students of color. Just this past Sunday, the trustees of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, near Boston, suspended a dress code policy that banned hair extensions, including the braided variety that many black girls sport. The school repeatedly gave 15-year-old twins Mya and Deanna Cook detention for wearing the hairdo, ousting Deanna from the track team because of the policy. According to the girls’ mother, Colleen Cook, school officials threatened them with suspension as well.