Teacher Cuts Child's Braid, Gets $175 Fine

8 years ago

A white teacher in Milwaukee, Wisc., cut off a black child's braid as punishment for the child's fidgeting with her hair. School officials have removed the first-grader, Lamya Cammon, age 7, from the teacher's classroom while they "investigate," but the teacher still has her job.

The teacher said "I apologize but I was frustrated," according to the mother, Helen Cunningham, who wants to know why this first grade teacher at Congress Elementary would be allowed to keep her job. "Why would we want someone like that teaching our kids?" she asks.

On TV station WISN video, the little girl says the teacher tricked her. She told her to come to desk for some candy and then cut off the braid, and the other children laughed. The child then went to her desk and cried.

From the WISN TV story:

Milwaukee police investigated the case and referred it to the district attorney for possible physical or mental abuse of a child charges.

When the district attorney's office decided not to file criminal charges, police this week issued the teacher a $175 ticket for disorderly conduct.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association can't talk about the incident, but said stress is not unusual.“As budget constraints get tighter every year, the stress level and frustrations do increase,” said the MTEA’s Sid Hatch.

12 News called the teacher Friday night and went to her home for comment, but someone came to the door and said she did not want to talk. (TV story)

Reading comments on this story around the web, people seem to have assumed immediately that the teacher was white. Here is one that was left at Examiner.com by a commenter called Sapphire:

The teacher is a racist plain and simple. Has she ever cut off blonde hair from a little white girl? Absolutely not! Or this would have been reported as this teacher's past behavior. No the fact is that this teacher is doing what has been practice since slavery....the hatred some white folks have at looking at black hair. Back then whites forced black slave women to cover up their head with rags to avoid looking at black "wooly" hair. They considered nappy hair dreadful to look upon. Before slavery African women took pride in their hair and wore many different styles and was their crowning glory within their respect tribes and among other villages. With regards to this teacher, it wasn't the twrilling that upset her the most, it was the child's natural state of hair that was the most frustrating. She should be fired, fined and apologize to the child and her family. (comment at the Atlanta Stay-At-Home Mom Examiner)

However, I did not see anything to support the conclusion that the teacher is white until today. I've known crazy teachers of all shades, and I know of at least one black woman who was a teacher who cut off a black girl's hair who was not her own. However, the incident did not happen at school, and the child was not her student. People didn't confront this woman, but discussed her deed behind her back for years, calling the act cruel.

Around the Net, folks definitely have opinions on this story. Comments at Black and Married with Kids are growing. Lamar, who wrote the post, responded to one person who said the teacher should be fired that the incident is nearly unfathomable: "Lady Di it’s hard for me to even imagine one of my daughters coming home and saying, “the teacher cut my braid off”."

Perhaps indicating the solemn chord this story strikes in the black community, Essence magazine's site, Essence.com, has given this braid-cutting incident a first page spread, interviewing the mother, Cunningham, who told the publication:

When my daughter came home from school she said, "Mom, my teacher cut my hair." I didn't believe her because I couldn't see a teacher doing a thing like that. So I said, "I am going to call the school tomorrow and find out what's going."

I called the school and talked to the school social worker. She said, "I haven't heard anything like that... a teacher cutting off a kid's hair. You might want to call the teacher and ask her if it's true." So, I went to the teacher's room in person. She admitted that she was frustrated that my daughter would not stop twirling her hair. She also told me that she held her from recess because she kept playing with her hair. And then, she said, "She kept doing it so I cut her hair." She said she just cut the end of her hair. I looked at my daughter's hair, because it is very long, and was like, "that's at least three inches gone from her head." And she said, "Well, I cut it and she said if she keeps doing it, then I will cut some more," while standing there like what she did is not wrong. (Read more: at Essence

Cunningham also confirmed to Essence that the teacher is white, and "the school is in a predominately Black neighborhood."

This anger at cutting a black child's hair goes deeper than some people might think. African-Americans, as mentioned in the comment at Examiner.com, have issues related to hair going back to slavery. And as recently covered in the documentary from Chris Rock, Good Hair, we still struggle with emotions related to length, kink, and nappiness, feeling pressure to conform to European beauty standards. See Lainad's post "Newsweek Targets Angelina and Brad's Daughter Zahara.......Over Her Hair?" and "Is Natural Hair Political?," plus a New York Times story, "Black Hair, Still Tangled in Politics, which references Rock's film. Even the post I wrote earlier this week on black writers angry at a Publishers Weekly cover has undercurrents on what it means to have an Afro.

Our specific hair issues aside, consider What Tami Said's post about the braid-cutting incident, "Are there no prisons? The value of little black girls or a modern Christmas carol." She notes, and I also observed, the number of people commenting on the mainstream media story about the first-grader who think this was a justifiable disciplinary action against a 7-year-old. They make comments such as "Well, if the little girl hadn't been playing with her hair, this wouldn't have happened."

And well, you know, the teachers' union blames it all on stress. The police fine has nothing to do with what the school system may decide to do with this teacher later.

My opinion? I'm pretty darn sure that if a little white girl had gone home and said "Mom, the teacher cut my hair because I was twirling my braids," while the story may not have made it to national news, that mom also would have been down at the school asking, "What the hell is wrong with you?" And then there would be hell to pay, teachers' union or not.

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com CE, the New Orleans Literature Examiner, and the African American Books Examiner. See more at Her411.

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