I was minding my business one fine afternoon, lurking on twitter, when I caught a glimpse of what Ebony.com was doing, and why:
A Central Florida teen told Local 6 on Monday she faced expulsion because administrators at her private school wanted her to cut and shape her hair. But a day later, administrators appeared to have changed their mind, saying she will not be expelled.
Vanessa VanDyke said she was given one week to decide to whether cut her hair or leave Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, a school she’s been going to since the third grade.
“It says that I’m unique,” said VanDyke. “First of all, it’s puffy and I like it that way. I know people will tease me about it because it’s not straight. I don’t fit in.”
VanDyke said that first the teasing from other students, but now, school leaders seem to be singling her out for her appearance.
Faith Christian Academy has a dress code and rules against how students can wear their hair. The student handbook reads: “Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction,” and goes on to state examples that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.
“A distraction to one person is not a distraction to another,” said VanDyke’s mother, Sabrina Kent. “You can have a kid come in with pimples on his face. Are you going to call that a distraction?”
VanDyke said she’s had her large, natural hair all year long, but it only became an issue after the family complained about students teasing her about her hair.
“There have been bullies in the school,” said Kent. “There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they’re blaming her.”
“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” said VanDyke.
“I’m going to fight for my daughter,” Kent said. “If she wants her hair like that, she will keep her hair like that. There are people out there who may think that natural hair is not appropriate. She is beautiful the way she is.”
School administrators told Local 6 in a statement on Tuesday, “we’re not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.” [source]
And, as I was skimming through commentary on Ebony.com’s efforts to host a #HappyAfroDay, I realized something very important, at least to me.
Once upon a time, when I used to write about my hair, I wrote about it being straight and relaxed, with no intention of ever “going natural.” In fact, I was one of those people who turned my nose up at the idea of being relaxer-free. I “have too much hair,” I “spent my entire life with straight hair and had no idea what the hell to do with non-relaxed hair,” I “couldn’t see non-relaxed hair as attractive,” I mean… just about every explanation you could think of was one that cycled through my mind.
I don’t think it’s on accident that those phrases are so common among relaxer-wearers. I also don’t think it’s on accident that natural-haired women also may find themselves going through a phase where they’re very anti-relaxer… almost to the point where it feels like attack mode. I think we’re all fighting for the same thing – albeit from completely different angles – and it all contributes to the same thing – healthy body image.
“Going natural” or “transitioning” is hard work, both mentally and physically. There’s a lot that contributes to our understanding of what makes us beautiful, and unpacking that is exhausting. I remember the first day I wore my half-n-half hair – half relaxed, half natural – in a slept-on braidout to run to the grocery store down the block, and the compliments just kept coming. I felt like crying – sad that I didn’t understand why I was so afraid to wear my own damn hair, and happy that it was affirmed that I was attractive in my own kinks and coils, even if I wasn’t mentally ready to affirm it for myself. It took me a long time to evolve from that thinking.
Obviously, things are different for me, now. I reached my four-year anniversary of going natural, recently. My hair is pretty damn long, and healthy to boot. Also, I live in the natural hair mecca, Brooklyn. We* have a special way to hug one another so that our fros don’t wind up tangling with one another. We have shops dedicated exclusively to our natural hair. We afro wearers give knowing nods to one another, as if to imply “I see you, girl, stunting with that lovely head of hair!” Most importantly, natural hair is so common here that it’s not as likely that you’d be insulted in regards to your hair as it might be elsewhere. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I wasn’t uncomfy in certain professional settings with my hair.
I’m not interested in opening persuasive conversation about why you need to be nappy and get happy. I don’t care to have conversations that villainize one side or the other. I am interested in talking about this from the perspective of “what are our relationships with our hair doing for us?” and “what contributes to our perspective of our hair, relaxed or natural?” and even “why are our hair choices so political?” I’m interested in what acceptance of “different hair” is like in other parts of the country (and the world, at that), and I’m interested in how that acceptance – or lack thereof – affects what resources you have to go natural, and even how it affects your desire to transition. I think that all of these things affect the way we look at ourselves and the world around us, and it colors our initial reaction to a school considering the hair of a naturally-bushy-haired child “a distraction” while simultaneously ignoring the need for young black girls to become acquainted with their own natural beauty. I think this is worth exploring here.
What do you think? I mean, aside from the usual questions that I get – “why is your hair so long???” which I’m totally okay with sharing anyway – what would you like to discuss? What do you think is most important, here?
*Not all, just some.. you ‘fro who you are!