When I heard that Butler, a high school in Louisville, Kentucky, released a dress code policy that is about as blatantly problematic as it gets, I was pissed off. Not only does the dress code ban hairstyles that are “extreme, distracting, or attention getting,” something that is seriously subjective to the viewer (most likely a white principal, I’m assuming?), but it goes on to state that “no dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, mohawks and no jewelry will be worn in hair.”
Is this seriously what school administrators are spending time on? If it wasn’t bad enough that young girls continue to be subject to dress codes that are totally sexist and that creepily hypersexualize the bodies of kids, we keep seeing these horrifying policies that make hairstyles common in the black community somehow inappropriate for a learning environment.
Yes, I was angry. But I wasn’t shocked. Remember Rhonda Lee, the newscaster who was fired for defending her right to wear her hair naturally to work? Or any of the dozens of little black children who have been removed from the classroom for wearing hairstyles that someone didn’t like?
It doesn’t end there. The Butler policy also says, “No male may dye, tint, or highlight his hair in any way.” This feels super homophobic and transphobic to me, as if a boy dyeing his hair doesn’t fit into the school’s idea of what a boy is supposed to do with his appearance. What’s the concern here, exactly? That it’s going to “turn him gay?” That he’ll be too “girlie” to be taken seriously as a student and respected as a peer?
Every time we allow a school to put out policies that harm not just the creative expression of our children but that make their cultures seem somehow less-than than those of their classmates, we promote once again that there’s only one way to be. We’re telling children that if they don’t assimilate racist norms and suffocating gender roles, then they don’t deserve respect, they don’t deserve to be in school, and that they don’t deserve an education.
It’s nonsense, and it’s ridiculous, but most of all, it harms children. It hurts their self-esteem. It makes them feel like they aren’t good enough. And we just can’t let this become a normal way of doing things in our country.