The politics of a black girl’s dreadlocks at an Oklahoma school

An Oklahoma school’s decision to dismiss a black girl because of her hair props up a racist practice, argues columnist Lynne K. Varner.

By Lynne K. Varner

I feel for the seven-year-old Tulsa, Okla., girl whose recent first day at school turned into her last after administrators deemed her hairstyle unacceptable.
The girl wore short, barely discernible locs, also known as dreadlocks. The school’s dress code forbids dreadlocks, Afros, mohawks and other “faddish styles,” that they fear could distract from a “respectful and serious” learning environment.

Some would defend those rules as no different from bans on micro-minis or navel-grazing shirts. It’s different. It props up a racist practice of schools judging black kids mostly, and also Latinos and Southeast Asians, as unkempt or undisciplined because of the way they style their hair.
It is hard to believe that a half-century after Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of children judged by the content of their character, some continue to be judged by their hair, and by extension, skin color.

Schools turning themselves inside out to improve and better educate kids of color ought to take long hard looks at their disciplinary policies. Local school districts, followed by state officials and most recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights, are putting schools on notice that they have gone beyond disciplining minorities kids — sometimes they’re picking on them.

It is understandable why many black parents have trouble trusting and in turn investing in their public schools.

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