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Unlock Biases Toward African Americans With With Natural Hair and Locs in School

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Presenting Complaint

In Toledo, Ohio, Central Catholic High School, a private school, has a rule in their student handbook with regard to unacceptable hairstyles. While some styles on the list may pertain to all students, two styles in particular, are specific to African Americans. This hairstyle rule has landed one student in jeopardy of serving detention. 

Background Story

Malachi Wattley, a freshman at the school, applied for and was accepted into the school while wearing his hair in locs, a hairstyle which he has had since the age of 2. His mother, Maylin Wattley, stated to the local news, that her son  was raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that he is Rastafarian, a religious and spiritual belief. Ms. Wattley stated that prior to enrolling her son, whose sister is already a student, the school assured her that his hair would not be a problem. 

During the last school week, an announcement was made over the PA system, that dreadlocks are not an acceptable hairstyle. When Wattley returned to school following this announcement with his dreadlocks, he was disciplined and given a citation for detention. 

The handbook reads for gentlemen students:   Fad hairstyles (spikes, mohawks, dreadlocks, twisty's, ponytails, carvings or man-buns) are not accepted. The assistant principal of campus ministry and discipline is the final judge of what isacceptable. 

For ladies: All hair must be a natural color, neat, clean and well groomed (no dreadlocks). 

This is a major issue because the rules show a bias against the hair that African Americans are born with. Per the language written by the school, these styles are being called "fad" hairstyles and are considered unclean, not well groomed, not neat and essentially unacceptable. 

This rule has been adopted in the school by-laws based on perceptions and assumptions of what natural hair is and looks like. Not only is this discrimination against a culture, it is also discrimination against a spiritual belief. The school prides itself in being "diverse" although this rule contradicts it.

Locked in Time

This is the second time Central Catholic has been under public scrutiny because they were challenged in 2011 when a senior, who was enrolling for classes, was told that her dreadlocks were unacceptable and she was to cut them off prior to returning. The school, after receiving many letters and phone calls, eliminated the rule in their online handbook, to appease those who called. That student was permitted to complete her high school education and graduate without incident.  However, they kept their in-print handbook the same throughout the years. 

Cultural Insensitivity and Bias

This school, like others as well as employers around the US, should be educated on what natural hair is and what styles are worn by those who have natural hair, the hair that African Americans are born with. Being told that their twists or locs are unacceptable is an infringement on their rights to be who they organically are, melanated, with curly, coily and fluffy. Hair that naturally grows upward, has long been banned in school and employee policies. When Afro hair is groomed, it is most often fashioned into braids, twists and locs; to ban this from any institution is a subtle effort to remind African Americans that they are not welcome or accepted as they are, lest they change or alter themselves in a way that is more comfortable for others. Even in that, the African American will always be considered threatening, hard, angry, aggressive, unintelligent, special needs or unacceptable. 

Although a private school, the Catholic Diocese should ensure that they are not infringing on anti-discrimination laws when writing their guidelines. Other schools have used terms in their handbooks referring to Black hairstyles such as afros, puffs, cornrows and twisted braids as unacceptable hairstyles as well. 

Call to Action

It is time to have a conversation to inspire change, about Black Hair, providing school staff and administrators with proper education and information with regard to the grooming practices of African Americans, especially their hair. It is time to change the antiquated rules that further oppress them. This school cannot offer a rational reason for this rule and are not treating its students with unbiased acceptance and respect. 

This is a rule that is being enforced in many schools across the U.S. including Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, KY who had a "no natural hair" policy; St. Joseph's College; Horizon Science Academy, Lorain, OH. The struggle continues in cities around the United States and in other countries. With the current racial climate, the policing of African American's hair is becoming a greater issue that must be addressed now.

Let's start with OHIO. I am a loctician and have been cultivating locs for over 10 years; natural hair for more than 20 years. I was born and raised in Ohio and have been conducting workshops to educate others on natural hair since 2007. Ohio already has harsh laws and requirements on the education and licensing of natural hairstylists that they are unwilling to change despite recent small efforts to modify a law on braiding. Now is the time to speak up  and create change about what is important to the building of positive self esteem in young African American students. Let's move toward a more inclusive system, accepting people regardless of their race, culture, hairstyle and religion. 

 

 

 



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