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September 9, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Detangling the hair wars fought by African Americans
My recent column sticks up for 7-year-old Tiana Parker, an Oklahoma girl forced to choose between her school and her hairstyle.
The Tulsa girl was sent home from school, on the first day no less, because her hair was styled in dreadlocks. She kept her hairstyle but switched to a new school that will hopefully be more interested in what’s in her head, rather than on it.
For those who think there are bigger issues than a hairstyle, I agree. That’s why the Deborah Brown Community School’s ban on Afros, dreadlocks and other hair styles it calls “faddish” is not only silly, but emotionally harmful to black students. Schools fixated on the academic well-being of black students should not forget their emotional well-being.
I was drawn to the Tulsa story because it involved education but also opened a window onto the sturm und drang surrounding the politics of black hair. Yes, black hair is a political issue. Who can forget the 2008 New Yorker magazine cover depicting Michelle Obama as a black militant wearing an Afro. When a naturallycurly.com web poll asked if the U.S. was ready for a first lady with natural kinky hair, 56% of respondents said no.
For black women hair choices can have an impact on our profession. A black meteorologist in Louisiana, who had traded her long straight hair for a short afro, was fired for her response to a viewer who criticized her new look. According to a Philadelphia Daily News column, the unemployed journalist is now hailed as the Rosa Parks of hair.
The National Museum of African Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution, hosted a “Health, Hair and Heritage,” symposium last June exploring the hair’s impact on the politics of racial identity.
MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris Perry explains why hair matters, politically and economically.