05/12/2017 Malden Ma  Mya Cook (cq) left and her sister Deanna Cook (cq) right attend Mystic Valley Regional Charter School . The school ha  said that some of their students hair styles violates their school's dress code.The girls beleive that they are being punshied for their hair style. They are twins and are 15 years old.  Boston Globe StaffPhotograph Jonathan Wiggs Reporter:Topic

We Need to Fix Racism in Our Institutions, Not Black Hair

This month, we witnessed several instances in which black students were punished for wearing natural or black hairstyles to school. A Boston charter school gave multiple detentions to 15-year-old twin sisters who came to school with box braids, arguing that their hair extensions broke the school’s dress code. As punishment, the twins were pulled from their sports teams and banned from prom. In Florida, 17-year-old Jenesis Johnson was called to the assistant principal’s office and told that her afro was “extreme,” “faddish” and “needed to be fixed.”

While dress codes disproportionately target girls’ bodies, black girls often face the double whammy of sexism and racism when trying to attend school. “It’s hurting me.” Johnson told ATTN. “For my people behind me, the younger ones, they’re going to have hair like me. Why can’t they wear their natural hair?”

Discrimination against black women who wear their hair natural persists in the professional world, too. In one example of this type of workplace discrimination, Chastity Jones, a woman with dreadlocks, was asked to change her hairstyle after being offered a customer service position. When she refused, the HR manager withdrew the job offer because the company’s hairstyle policy banned dreadlocks. Jones filed a lawsuit, but the court system defended the employer’s right to ban dreadlocks at work.

When institutions racially discriminate against women because of the texture of their hair, black girls are kept from school and women are denied access to professional advancement opportunities. Racism extends beyond hair texture too, compounding to create a system in which black girls are generally disciplined more aggressively and at higher rates than their white counterparts. Black girls do not misbehave more than other students, yet they are suspended from school more frequently than white girls. According to a report by the NAACP and the National Women’s Law Center, “under-resourced schools, disparate discipline practices, gender-based violence and harassment, and lack of support for pregnant and parenting students [...] further compromise educational outcomes for African American girls.”

The report goes on to explain that in 2017 black girls are twice as likely to be suspended compared to other students no matter what state they live in, and that in many of these states, they are four to five times as likely to be suspended. In Washington, DC, they are 17.8 times more likely to be suspended compared to white girls.

At times, the excessive policing of black students turns violent. In 2015 at a high school in South Carolina, a resource officer assaulted a 16-year-old black student after she refused to hand her cell phone to the teacher. In video footage of the event, the officer flips her over a desk and throws her onto the floor. Earlier this year, a student used their cell phone to record another police officer at a school in North Carolina body slamming a black student before picking her up and leading her away.

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces that foster a love of learning. When they become places of institutional violence, it’s only a matter of time before students become less motivated to stay in school. While girls generally graduate at higher rates than their male peers, black girls have the lowest graduation rate of any demographic. And when black girls enter the workforce, the gap persists. In 2015, black women earned 65 cents on the dollar compared to white men. For comparison, white women earned 82% of what white men earn.

It’s a cliched adage, but children really are the future. Applying racist and unnecessary dress codes to students undermines their value and obstructs their educational and professional progress. We have far more important challenges to prepare for than whether or not our hair is styled correctly. Rather than tell black girls and women to fix their hairstyles, we should be telling institutions to fix their policies.

Image credit: Huffington Post

Brooklyn, NY

Tierney is the Director of Production at Flocabulary, an ed-tech company that makes learning engaging, relevant and accessible for students of all backgrounds using hip-hop. She oversees creative content production, working with artists and musicians to make music. Tierney has collaborated with the United Nations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fat Tony, Nitty Scott, Donwill and Sammus. Most recently, she has spearheaded a series of social justice videos, defying standards about when and where social justice is taught. She has degrees in creative writing and popular culture, loves dancing, reading and laughing, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Be cautious: the booty is bigger than it appears.

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