“[New Yorkers have the right to maintain] natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state,” said the New York Commission on Human Rights on Feb 18.
I recall my mother telling me, “We got to do that hair,” and me proceeding to grab the brush and comb, reaching inside the medicine cabinet gripping the Blue Magic hair grease and taking a look at my terrified face in the mirror as I closed the cabinet. I laid the pillow down on the living room floor and sat between her legs preparing myself for the comb to coil contact. The pop of the comb sounded on the back of my neck as I flinched in surrender.
“It is the price of beauty,” my mother would say and I would always say to myself, “I would rather be ugly.”
At that time, what I thought was worse than having my mother go to war on my scalp was the stares and moment of silence I got as I walked into school Monday morning. My anxiousness was not toward my peers’ comments because they too understood the awkwardness of coming into class with a new hairstyle. My anxiousness was toward my teachers. I would walk into class trying to avoid all eye contact until my teacher would pull me center stage followed by the words, “Qur’an, like the new hair.” I would blush in embarrassment.
My experience with the politicization of my various hairstyles were rather subtle, but there are many stories of black children being reprimanded for the hair that grows naturally from their scalp or the protective styles they used to preserve every kink and coil.
Last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court refused The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s request to review a case in which a black woman, Chasity Jones, had her job offer retracted in 2010 at an Alabama insurance company after refusing to cut her dreadlocks. The Supreme Court ruled that refusing to hire someone because of their dreadlocks is legal, according to NBC News.
This was not an isolated incident, a number of cases of black students being sent home or punished for their hairstyles have taken place across the country.
Andrew Johnson, a student at Buena Regional High School in Buena, New Jersey was told to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match. He chose to cut his dreadlocks. Johnson won the match but was emotionally defeated as his teammates and coaches stood by and cheered, labeling the blatant discrimination as an act of courage.
In 2017, twin sisters at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts were given detention because their braids violated their school’s grooming policy, deeming them a distraction. According to NPR, “As punishment, the girls were removed from their extracurricular activities, barred from prom and threatened with suspension if they did not change their hair.” The school’s administration is no stranger to reprimanding black students for their hairstyles. Colleen Cook, the mother of the twins, recalled that one student who wore her hair naturally, was taken out of class and told to relax or chemically straighten her hair before coming to school the next morning.
The New York Commission on Human Rights said the “targeting of people based on their hair or hairstyles, at work, school or in public spaces, will now be considered racial discrimination,” according to the New York Times. The city can issue a $250,000 fine for those who violate these guidelines as well as force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.
Freshman communication studies major Rikiyah Mixson has kept her hair natural all her life and recalled her early years in school and the fear of embracing her natural state. “I was scared of what other people would say, even though you tell yourself ‘I don’t care what anyone else has to say,’” said Mixson. “I had to have reassurance from my peers.”
Although natural hair is being acknowledged, there is a certain type of natural that is more acceptable than others.
“You’ll see the curly, natural hair pages [on social media] and they only seem to fetish the looser textures, girls with long, big and curly [hair,]” said Mixson.
When asked about the ban of discrimination on natural hair, Mixson was simply taken back that a law even had to be put in place.
“Hair is a part of you. It does something psychologically to a child especially if they are told ‘You have to cut your hair because it is not appropriate.’ What do you mean by appropriate?” said Mixson.
On my 18th birthday, a few weeks before I left for college, I decided to cut off all my hair, simply because I could. In that moment, I had full control over what naturally grew from my head with no fear of apprehension from others. Everyone should embrace and take full control of what is theirs, no matter the texture, length, size or how we enhance our hair. Embody the curl and embrace the kink.