wanda sykes

Wanda Sykes’ ‘Afro/Twist’ hairstyle

*Butler High School in Louisville, Kentucky tried to institute a new grooming policy as part of its dress code this summer. See if you can detect anything wrong with it.

The revised policy was going to prohibit dreadlocks, twists, mohawks, cornrows, and afros larger than two inches in length.

The policy was scrapped after community members attended a school council meeting to protest. Oddly enough the school council had already decided to allow for those hairstyles because of the reaction that the policy inspired. But community members still wanted to attend the meeting to voice their displeasure that such measures were ever considered.

At its core many people viewed the restrictions as racially motivated because the restrictions would have disproportionately affect black students. More specifically the restrictions would have most affected black students that chose to wear their hair in natural styles. Essentially the school council was determining that only shortened or straightened hair would be acceptable.

It is admirable that the school council did not wait for protests at their meeting to conclude that they had taken a wrong turn. But without those statements of protest and the councils reaction it is hard to determine how they initially decided to try this policy and why they ultimately decided against it. Those are important issues because they would help to establish whether the school would ever go down that road again.

While I argued against the tactics of the Black Lives Matter Movement a few weeks ago, their message is valid; some police officers operate differently when faced with people of color because they are seen as alien and/or not as valuable.  Similarly this episode with Butler High School illustrates how the school council valued natural black hair styles less than alternatives typically worn by white students. It would have been beneficial for community members to be able to speak to hopefully ensure a bit more sensitivity toward people of color. It would have been good to establish that a policy of this nature would not be considered in the future.

Part of my proposed solution for institutional racism was to highlight the aspects of American culture that were co-opted from black culture. Following that suggestion would have helped the Butler High School council avoid this situation. If they could’ve appreciate that some black female celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o, Wanda Sykes, Raven Simone, and Tracy Ellis-Ross all wear natural black hairstyles (not to mention the number of black male celebrities that wear cornrows and dreadlocks), they should have hesitated to go down this road at all.

Luckily this situation has been put to rest. And hopefully other schools will avoid embarrassing themselves in this area. But I wouldn’t be surprised.

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.