There’s been a whole lot of talk about hair over the last week or so – more specifically African American hair. First there was the Sheryl Underwood statement that shocked and offended quite a few folks. Then we go somewhat past/through that, only to finish the week out with a local school reported to have sent 7 year old Tiana Parker home, not for bad behavior, not for any type of contagious or communicable disease, nor for a school emergency, but because of the way her hair was styled. I always seem to have a hope when I read these types of stories that it just couldn’t be true. Approximately 3 months ago, an Ohio school decided to ban Afro Puffs and braids/twists, and they have since apologized and an apology was in order along with the removal of the ban. And now it happens again with young Tiana.
I was pretty pissed off about the entire situation, hurt that a child was hurt in this way; and then I stumbled upon the most beautiful response to date, designed by Dr. Yaba Blay with contributions from a host of African American women with Locs and encouraging messages for Tiana Parker. Here it is.
There are many responses that are needed. Does pressure need to be put on the Debra Brown Community School administration? Absolutely. Should there be an outcry of injustice, discrimination and misuse of the establishing of policies? Most definitely!
Some would argue that the school was within their right because after all they did state in their policy that: “Hairstyles such as Dreadlocks, Afros or Mohawks and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” To say that Tiana’s dad, Mr. Parker should have known better and just submit himself and his daughter to the rules, is to miss a more serious offense – that this should never have been a policy in the first place, in that it is an objection to the type and texture of African American hair – hair that grows differently than straight hair, is curly and tightly coiled without any chemical alterations, and therefore by default must be styled differently.
The style of an Afro and/or Dreadlocks are not “faddish” by any stretch of anyone’s historical awareness or imagination. What is the deal with African American hair and the interest and fascination? Why is it that I, even as an adult, whether in institutions of higher learning or interacting with some straight haired folks in other settings, can run into folks who feel the need to “touch” my hair and be somewhat offended and put off by my response of no?
Historically speaking, many Black folks began a process of straightening our hair in order to fit in and be accepted by a dominant, and racist society. Today, several African Americans still straighten their hair – chemically, flat ironed, etc – for most that I know who still straighten their tresses, it is not at all about acceptance, it is just what is normative for how we were raised or because of personal preference for a straight look. I don’t knock them, I used to have my hair chemically relaxed too. As a teenager I waited in anticipation for getting old enough for my parents to allow me to “relax” my hair. So, I get it. We could talk about these types of surface aspects forever, but unless the underlying issues are addressed, such as why all this even matters in the first place and why policing hair styles/textures is wrong. As I see it the following are a few reasons actions such as those of DBCS and others matters.
Perhaps it is embedded in our psyche so deeply and for so long that it is almost impossible for some to unlearn it or even realize that something is wrong and of need of being unlearned. Who knows??? But, Tiana and others like her have a plethora of people in their corner, encouraging and holding them up.
I don’t usually rant, but I just need to say that I get a bit annoyed when some White folks try to tell Black folks how and how not to respond to injustices. Telling folks who are hurting to get over it, put it behind us, move on, you’re overreacting, and let it go are just not acceptable. And yes, I have heard and read all of these statements.
If those who are white are tired of hearing us (and our allies) talk about this, perhaps they should consider that they are not the only ones who are tired – we too are tired – of decade after decade of the same old ill treatment and disproportionate discrimination. If you are weary of us “whining and complaining” or “playing the race card.” keep in mind that we too are weary, weary of racial profiling, weary of constant subtle and not so subtle messages that we are not as good or as valued as our lighter brothers and sisters.
So, when we say this is about race, it is not solely about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, it is inclusive of a frustration with a judicial system and societal norms of suspicion regarding who and how we are as Black folks. SO YES, it is about race, racism, and we can’t keep ignoring and denying it.
If Trayvon Martin had been born white he would be alive today. That has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste. Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you – and the millions your memory represents – by building a movement that makes America what it must become. RIP. – Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
Now that I have dried a few tears and have tried to silence the outrage in my soul over the Zimmerman verdict heard last night, it is my hope that I can put words together in some way or another. My first reaction to the verdict was anger, and then sadness, and eventually outrage! Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him gets to walk away from the crime without serving any jail time. For a brief moment as I awaited the verdict, I had some hope that maybe, just maybe the judicial system would work in favor of an innocent, unarmed 17 year old kid walking home from the store. Even though our history in America has done nothing to even encourage such glimmer of hope.
According to Robert Zimmerman (the brother of George), our judicial system is one of the best and actually works well. A statement that would not likely ever be voiced by African Americans and other brown skinned bodies, especially Black men. The system is slanted against African Americans disproportionately – the evidence repeatedly bears this out. And even when a Black teenager walks home from a trip to the store, folks are willing to suggest stupid stuff like “he was armed with a sidewalk” – what kind of BS is that?
This of course is not the only stupidity and ignorance that has been spouted off by those in favor of the verdict. Here are a few more:
Of course there are more ridiculous words that have been uttered, but I think you get it by now. It is still just as unfathomable to me today as it was over a year ago, that a man driving in a neighborhood with a gun sees a Black male walking in the rain with a hoodie on in “his” neighborhood and assumes he is guilty or “up to something” even though he was simply walking home – yes that’s called racial profiling!
This strong, or at least heavy set grown man with a gun, exits his car to follow the Black guy – a young man who has no idea that the guy pursuing him is neighborhood watch.
I pray for Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. I pray for African Americans who once again have had to hear the underlying message that our lives do not have value and intrinsic worth. I weep for those who insist, perhaps due to blindness or at best denial, that race does not factor into this situation.
Justice was not served yesterday. Utter disregard for the value of brown skinned people and the legitimizing of racism is what happened yesterday evening. This hurts like hell (yes, I did just say that). And as much as I wanted to ignore the pain that I felt last night and the sorrow in my heart today, sometimes we just need to sit with our pain for a bit – not spiritualize it or stuff it down in the name of taking action, but just acknowledge it and cry as much as we need to.
Last night and even somewhat today, the only prayer I could offer was in the form of tears. Sometimes the tears are the prayer – no fancy words, and for the most part, no words at all, just tears flowing from a place of deep pain and anguish.
Thanks for stopping by my blog, a place where I write about my faith journey, life, leadership and ministry. Feel free to interact with me in the comment sections of each entry. - Darlene