It’s Never Just About Hair

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

With social media being used more than it ever has been in today's day and age, young girls are constantly bombarded by the media telling them how they should look. Girls and young women today do not have the opportunity to find out who they truly are because they are told being themselves isn’t beautiful. This issue is even more evident for young black girls. Skin color has always been a topic of discussion because it is used as a way to bully, discriminate and degrade black women and girls. But this discrimination has gone much farther then just skin color. In 2015, Kaysie Quansah wrote on her Facebook about the principal of Amesbury Middle School in Toronto who said her niece’s hair was “too poofy,” for school and was told to “do something about her hair”. The principal then told her if she did not do anything about it, she would leave her in the principals office until something was done about it. The 13 year old girl was reduced to tears.

“I didn’t see what the big deal was about my hair because it wasn’t bothering anybody,” the young girl told City News. “I was just doing my work, so I didn’t see why I had to be pulled out of the class.”

This problem is not the only one to arise recently. On May 23, BuzzFeed News reported about Mya and Deanna Cook, two 18 year old twins in Massachusetts, who were banned from their prom, track team and all school activities because their braids were deemed “against the schools dress code”. This interview prompted various girls to speak out against their school because of the unnecessary policing they receive when they wear their hair naturally or in braids.

These schools are trying to conform students into looking the exact same way. Whether you have curly hair or braided hair is not the problem. The problem is the administration and the reason they are punishing these girls for wearing their hair naturally or in braids. They want them to conform to European beauty standards by telling them to straighten their hair. These schools express their control of these girls by making them feel inferior when they try to think for themselves.

The ACLU also filed a complaint against the school, stating that these schools are specifically targeting students of color. The school’s dress policy bans “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles”, and “hairstyles that could be distracting to students”. But these rules do not consider that black hair is naturally more thick, coarse and less likely to lie flat. These rules also affect other students of color who wear head coverings or grow out long beards for religious reasons. Students should not be disciplined because of something that is apart of them naturally or religiously. This type of discipline is very dangerous because it is about being a student of color in a school that is mostly white. Many students have stated that this treatment is unfair because white students are seen with dyed hair, but are not told to remove it. The ACLU also reported about a Muslim student who was told she had to remove her henna tattoos, even though they are traditional in her religion.

On information and hands, belief, a Muslim student celebrating the holiday of Eid was instructed to remove Henna coloring from her although it is a tradition in Islam to use Henna in this way as part of the religious holiday; meanwhile, white students with hair coloring have been ignored.

Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish discusses how people in positions of power enforce their authority psychologically, rather than by force. Foucault referred to social theorist Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison to help get his point across. We as citizens are under surveillance 24/7, prompting people to act accordingly or else suffer the consequences. Foucault believed that this state of mind can have negative results. The masses become increasingly aware that they are being observed, leaving no room for individuals. People begin to conform to social norms, and shun anyone who dares to think for themselves.

Amesbury Middle School, Mystic Valley Regional Charter School and many other institutions like them utilize their authority by excluding and alienating girls like Mya, Deanna and Kaysie Quansah’s niece so that they are made an example of for anyone who tries to go out of the “norm” in terms of how they choose to style their hair. When other students see that these girls are being punished for their choices, they are compelled to fall in line so that they are not punished either. But this is not America. America is a melting pot of people who speak different languages, practice various religions and look different from one another. Schools and workplaces all over the country should take pride our diversity. When we all conform to a specific look or way of living, we all become the same, making uniqueness a thing of the past.