Black hair made news again this week.
During a segment on CBS’ The Talk co-host Sheryl Underwood expressed dismay that supermodel Heidi Klum would save the cut hair of her biracial children saying,
“OK, I’m sorry, but why would you save Afro hair? You can’t weave Afro hair. You never see us at the hair place going ‘Look, here, what I need here is, I need those curly, nappy beads.’ That just seems nasty.”
Underwood swiftly apologized, claiming that she was making a joke, but also acknowledging that the misplaced humor touched on a place of deep pain for many African-Americans: the social rejection of our hair.
While Underwood was taking the brunt of public outrage for her hair joke, we learned this week that a school in Tulsa, Okla., has made hair shaming official policy. Deborah Brown Community School sent a student home for what authorities there deemed an “unacceptable” hairstyle. The hairstyle? Short dreadlocks, pinned back with a bow.
The student? A seven-year-old girl, who by all accounts is a very good student.
Now, my letter this week isn’t to the Deborah Brown Community School–even though we reached out to them and were referred to their lawyer who still hasn’t called back. Instead, my letter this week is to the most important person in this whole story: seven-year-old Tiana Parker, and all the other little Tianas in our communities.
It’s me, Melissa.
Tiana, when I saw and heard you cry about not being able to wear your hair the way you wanted it broke my heart. First of all Tiana, no matter what your school or anyone else has said to you–we are proud of your hair–and you should be, too. In spite of your school’s policy that states:
“Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”
For the record, Tiana, your hair is not distracting, unacceptable, a fad or wrong. Tiana, your hair is wonderful. You come from a people with a beautiful array of styles and textures that range from short to big afros that come in colors from gray to black, curly naturals that spiral every which way just because they can.
And you, dear Tiana, are part of a people that have the choice of sporting dreadlocks which have a rich history in black culture. Locks have been rocked by the likes of reggae’s most indelible artist Bob Marley and later generations of musicians like rocker Lenny Kravitz wore dreadlocks in his early days. Songstress Lauryn Hill’s locks were matched by the beauty of her deep brown skin.
That same beautiful, brown skin that you too possess, Tiana. Because remember on top of all this: your black is beautiful.
And let’s not forget the queen bee herself: Oscar-winning actress Miss Whoopi Goldberg hasn’t let anyone tell her how to dress or look, and has proudly worn her locks for decades. But if you need inspiration closer to your age, you can look to young artist Willow Smith. Whether she is whipping her hair back and forth, or she is rockin’ the shortest buzz cut because no matter what anyone says, her beauty and choices are limitless.
The same way your beauty and choices are limitless, dear Tiana. So your old school might want to revamp its policy, because instead of enforcing a uniform policy for students; it reinforces stereotypes and undermines a student’s sense of self.
And kudos to your Mama and your Daddy–the barber who takes great pride in your hair–for pulling you out of a school that did not celebrate their child.
So here is the MHP message to you, Tiana, and to all the little brown girls who rock their hair in all its many styles: You are perfect, just the way you are. Don’t be confused, when you’re at school, what is in your head is way more important than what is on your head!
Update: Deborah Brown Community School ruled on Monday that it would change its policy. Hairstyles like dreadlocks and afros will now be allowed as long as the school does not see any hygiene problems. Tiana’s parents have already said that they will not sent her back now that their daughter’s hair is no longer “unacceptable.”