It’s not a secret that school dress code in America is targeted toward females, but some citizens don’t acknowledge the overt discrimination black women experience when it comes to these prejudicial rules.
On Aug. 20, 11-year-old Faith Fennidy was sent home from Christ the King Elementary School in Gretna, Louisiana for her hair extensions. The sixth-grader was wearing box braids, a protective hairstyle worn by black girls and women in which hair extensions are braided with the natural hair, which violates the Roman Catholic school’s dress code policy.
Faith had worn the hairstyle in the past at the school without any trouble. However, Christ the King decided to change ts policy this summer, making it mandatory for students to wear their natural hair. Steven Evergreen Fennidy, Faith’s brother, posted a video of the incident on Facebook. The clip garnered over two million views and gained attention from celebrities like rapper T.I. and writer Shaun King, who denounced the school’s policy.
In the footage, Faith is seen bawling while a man says, “There’s nothing wrong with her hair,” in which a woman replies, “I don’t want this to happen.” More words are exchanged between Faith’s family and the school’s administration before the sixth-grader and her family leave the building.
”My sister Faith and many little black girls wear extensions,” Faith’s brother wrote when he posted the video. “Faith got a notice on the first day of class and it’s ridiculous that these schools that we are PAYING for, will go in and make policies without consulting or trying to figure out how this will affect your life or your child’s life. How do you make a policy without even having a discussion. It’s because you don’t care and it’s just one more barrier to entry for black people. This decision is going to affect black children more than white children.”
As a black woman, I identify with Faith’s story, and know what it’s like to be discriminated against when I wear hair extensions instead of my natural hair. For decades, black females have been belittled for wearing synthetic hair when other ethnicities do the same without criticism. It’s frustrating for black girls to be treated like criminals at school for not wearing their natural hair because it’s seen as ghetto, when Kim Kardashian receives over a million likes on Instagram for flaunting her box braids or what she calls “Bo Derek braids.”
The reason black women wear braiding hairstyles is to stimulate hair growth, keep the hair neat, and protect the hair from becoming tangled when we don’t want to tend to it for a while. The beautiful and intricate braiding patterns we’ve created is just a plus to the hairstyle, not a fashion statement. Why is a black woman degraded immediately when she decides to show her cultural pride, but a non-black woman who appropriates black culture is seen as a trend-setter?
Some black females are self-conscious about wearing their natural hair because it’s seen as “nappy” or undesirable due to its kinky, coily or coarse texture. This causes us to get perms, a chemical process that makes the hair straight and is known to damage hair follicles, hindering hair growth. Some black women wear synthetic hair with the intention of resembling white women’s hair texture to meet society’s distorted and outdated beauty standards. It’s appalling that predominantly-white religious schools view weave, clip-ins, hair extensions and wigs as inappropriate for black women to wear but treat us like exotic zoo animals when we rock our natural hair.
Prohibiting black girls from expressing black culture in school by wearing braids and other black hairstyles can lower their self-esteem, as they’re repeatedly told they aren’t worthy of learning because their hair is a distraction. We believe it’s useful to wear synthetic hair for styling because we don’t have to tame our natural hair constantly, which is very time-consuming and takes special hair care products to maintain. Further, our hair is damaged easily, so we wear colored synthetic hair as a healthy replacement for a desired color. Non-black celebrities like Kylie Jenner are known to perform this same method but aren’t ostracized because their natural hair is of a similar texture.
School boards need to effectively reform these disgusting policies so black girls don’t feel problematic for wearing hairstyles that protect their natural hair and allow them to express themselves and black culture. This issue has been swept under the rug continuously, but the pile is now too big to hide. We have been bullied for our physical features and told we are quick to victimize ourselves when derogatory behavior toward us is exposed. Enough is enough. When will it stop being a crime to be unapologetically black?
Our black girl magic isn’t a recipe to be stolen for a fashion show, social media post or music video. It’s hurtful when people wear our culture like costumes to make money or gain fame, while altering the material and shaming the original. With much-needed open-mindedness, little black girls like Faith won’t have to worry about being dismissed from learning because of their hairstyle and can feel socially accepted by non-black faculty members and schoolmates.
Jasmine Edmonson is a 20-year-old mass communication sophomore from Denham Springs, Louisiana.