Charter School Deems Afros And Dreadlocks Not ‘Respectable,’ Hassles 7-Year-Old

toddler with afroCultural insensitivity seems to have a home at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seven-year-old Tiana, a now former student, was left in tears after her dreadlocks were considered a violation of an otherwise very problematic dress code that describes afros and dreadlocks as too “distract[ing]” for their “respectful and serious atmosphere.” Apparently, African-American hair doesn’t constitute as presentable for this charter school — a super racially charged statement to say the very least. reports that Tiana’s father and professional barber, Terrance Parker, decided to withdraw her from the school that lumped his daughter’s natural hair in with “faddish hairstyles.” The school’s dress code is as follows:

 It states, “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”

The school feels that could distract from the respectful and serious atmosphere it strives for.

Parker says that he decided to pull his daughter from the 2013-2014 school year because the school “hassled him and didn’t leave him a choice.” He maintains that his daughter, who is a straight-A student, had the exact same hair style last year and it wasn’t a problem.

So, to be clear, if this little girl chemically straightened her hair to resemble that of her presumely white peers, then that would be kosher? I can’t even.

(photo: cpayne)

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  • Andrea

    I think there’s more to this story. I read the original article, and in that school, 99% of the kids are black, and so is most of the administration and faculty. It seems strange to me that all of the sudden they would “hassle” a girl over dreadlocks.

    ETA: she wouldn’t have very many “white peers” in this school.

    • Mystik Spiral

      In the article I read, the school said that the father was well aware of the dress code but violated it anyway. It’s a lame-ass rule, and maybe the father was trying to make a point, or maybe he just wanted his 15 minutes. Either way, it’s sad that the little girl is paying the price for the actions of stupid adults.

      Also, it looked to me like her hair was braided, not in dreads. There was nothing distracting or un-presentable about her.

    • Andrea

      Like I said, there has to be more to this. It can’t just be about the hair.

    • Andrea

      I did some more research on this. Turns out the school is a charter school. Which means that you are not “forced” attend it (i.e. that’s where you are districted to), but you apply to attend. They also make you sign that you read and understood the rules, and the rules about hair and dress code are VERY clearly stated.

      In other words, dad CHOSE to send the girl to this school, AGREED to abide by the codes, and then decided to buck the system. Also make a big stink on the media.

      I am thinking even more that there’s way more to this than what’s stated. And also, since the school is 99% black students, 100% black administration, and about 70% black teachers, I am not sure where the racist card comes from. I don’t buy the self-hate thing at all.

    • HS

      There’s such a thing as self-hate though. The Black administration of this school is forcing children to adhere to “White standards” by forcing them to alter their natural hair. So if this school is in fact 99% Black, then it’s less about racism and more about self-hate. Both of which are equally dangerous.

    • Andrea

      Self-hate? That seems insane to me.

    • Mystik Spiral

      Happens a lot, though. Obviously hating yourself is not the most sound of mental states, but I wouldn’t say it’s insane.

    • JLH1986

      Actually its usually along the continuum of self discovery. As a counselor I’m very careful when working with someone who isn’t a WASP (as I am), only because I’m not sure where they are on that continuum. It’s confusion, then rejection of one’s “minority” culture (assimilating 100% to the WASP culture for example), then usually rejecting the majority culture (WASP again for this) and embracing one’s minority culture 100% (think of someone suddenly becoming Jewish or participating in Native American ceremonies) and then eventually melding the two. But this is all in flux all the time and should be taken in to account. So Long story short, you are 100% correct, its not insane, it’s just steps that those who aren’t considered the “majority” have to work through. Which is a statement in and of itself.

    • Emmali Lucia

      Like Poogles said, it’s actually a very well-known condition known as internalized racism and it’s when someone wishes to assimilate to the culture in power and feels the need to make other members of said person’s former culture assimilate to the “Mainstream” culture.

    • Paul White

      I don’t like the automatic equation of culture and race; they’re frequently not synonymous. And you can have a variety of cultures with a race (for instance, how many different cultures do people of African heritage derive from? Or hell, Caucasians).

    • Paul White

      Also, and I may get downvotes, I wholeheartedly believe some cultures are inferior to others. Your damn right I view current American culture as superior to current North Korean culture or the Jim Crow American South. That isn’t at play with something like hair, but pure cultural relativism baffles me.

    • Emmali Lucia

      You’re right. There are many more cultures than just “The white culture” and “The black culture”

      I’ve been up for like 16 hours now and I barely paid attention in Sociology, so I can’t explain it as well as I want to.

      Let me try it this way:
      There is a definite WASP-American culture. We put that culture up on a pedestal in the media (Leave it to Beaver, anyone?), and people who don’t belong to that culture often get a lot of flack, so people who don’t look like they belong to the culture will often try to assimilate into the culture as a way to fit in with their surroundings, and often times it’s not even a race thing, it started with the Irish, then the Polish, then the Jews, now it’s the Russians (Although not nearly as much as before the fall of the USSR). Anyways, I’m going to stop talking now because I’m sure I’m making no sense.

    • Tinyfaeri

      For an easy intro, may I suggest watching “Good Hair” (Chris Rock’s documentary).

    • Poogles

      “There’s such a thing as self-hate though. ”
      Otherwise known as “internalized racism”.

  • Annona

    That makes me sick. I remember years ago a friend of mine going absolutely ballistic when her four year old daughter went for a weekend stay at an aunt’s house and came home with her natural hair “permed” because toxic fucking chemicals on a baby’s head are not OK and neither is shaming a child about the natural texture of her hair. My friend responded by dreading her child’s hair; that former 4 year old is now starting law school, and her dreads go almost down to her ass. And she looks just as professional as anyone else.

  • Kelby Johnson

    This is sad. I hope they get everything figured out.

  • Aimee Beff

    The only thing “distracting from a respectful environment” at this school is the ridiculous attitude that the some of the easiest ways to care for a black child’s hair are innately unpresentable (or “faddish”? So was “the Rachel” not allowed in the ’90s, either, then?). I’m sure the real distraction was this little girl showing up to school in dreads and not, you know, shaming her in front of her peers for having natural hair.

  • jendra_berri

    Dreads are not “faddish” for black hair. They’re lovely and very serious looking. A black person with dreads could look great in a suit, a wedding dress, or school uniform. Dreads are perfectly suited to natural black hair. White hair, on the other hand? Pffft, no. I’ve never seen that look professional, personally.
    I know you can’t have differing rules for different races, but surely a rule against “unkempt” hair would suffice. African dreadlocks are in no way unkempt, whereas white hair in dreads… is.

    • Annie

      Unless that white person has very naturally coarse hair, as I do. But you’re right, dreads are perfectly normal. I think that people are against them because there’s an old wive’s tale about them being dirty, that they carry lice because you can’t wash them, etc. That would easily go under a rule against unkempt hair, and leave people with nice, clean dreads, as I’m sure Tiana’s is, alone.

      I kinda wish that her dad would have challenged them more on this, especially since he’s a barber and hair is KIND OF WHAT HE DOES.

    • Emmali Lucia

      I think that’s funny about the old wives tale because lice don’t like dirty hair.

    • Annie

      ikr? I think the misconception is from people who just never do anything with their hair and it turns into raggedy dreads, rather than the girl’s. Hers are quite pretty!

    • Evelyn

      It might have been better for future kids at the school if he had fought it more but I can understand why he took her out. If the school administration are making her unhappy and essentially bullying her to conform to the aesthetics of another race then I can understand why he wouldn’t want her to be there. In his position if the school changed their minds and graciously allowed her to return I would still not want her to go back because they have already proved that they don’t treat her well. As a parent he put her happiness and well being first by finding her a place where they could appreciate her for the lovely child that I am sure she is. Just to add to everyone else on this, I thought her hair looked nice and smart.

    • Paul White

      I have to say that I’ve *rarely* seen dreadlocks that were clean. Maybe once or twice.
      But that should be a hygiene issue apart from the hairstyle.

    • jendra_berri

      I’ve seen some very nice dreads, but only on black people. They always look so uniform and tube-like in a really pleasing way. White hair is usually not black and it’s often straight or a little wavy. The end result looks like clumps more often than not.
      Same goes with braids. Looks awesome on black people and not professional on white people. Different hair needs different style options.
      Black hair and white hair are fundamentally different. Black hair takes more work, and there’s more artistic things you can do with it, and there are styles a black person can rock that a white person would look a little silly doing. But it comes at a cost: more time, more money, fewer salons who specialize in your needs and too many people giving their two cents about it.
      I don’t think it’s fair to eliminate hairstyles from black girls. They deserve the chance to feel pretty and learn the ropes of their bodies, and that includes hair. My understanding is that for a black woman, her hair is a big deal. The maintenance and outside opinions are a lifelong issue.
      I feel the school was racially insensitive. Afros happen, man, if you’re black. Dreads de-afro the hair. I mean, come on.

    • Evelyn

      There are dreads and there are dreads. Have a look at the video as they show the little girl. We aren’t talking Bob Marley style dreads but subtle, short and smart.

  • chickadee

    So wait — black students can only attend school if they have “good” hair? Natural black hair is distracting??

    Distracting in its AWESOMENESS, maybe. What tools those people are.

    • Andrea

      Being that 99% of the student body in this school is black, I am not sure that’s what they are saying.

    • chickadee

      But they have deemed an afro, a natural hair style, as a fad or distracting….!

    • Andrea

      I think that makes no sense. I don’t think we are getting the whole story AT ALL.

    • alice

      it’s a charter school for mostly black students, run by mostly black staff, with a strict dress policy which parents have to agree to before enrolling their children, including: “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, and other faddish styles are unacceptable. for safety reasons, girls weaved hair should be no longer than shoulder length. boys hair should be short and neatly trimmed. boys are not allowed to wear earrings.”

      ^^ i don’t believe that’s racist at all.

      if we want to complain that this charter school in tulsa isn’t progressive enough to encourage afros as the most natural hair choice for young black women, then i guess so. but as a charter school, it has the right to set its dress code. it wouldn’t be the first school to set a dress code against “distracting” or “unkempt” hairstyles. they can make their own rules. parents don’t have to send their kids there.

      there’s no racism here. (but obviously, lots of media outlets want there to be) ??

    • chickadee

      Hi, I didn’t say anything was racist. I questioned the categorizing of natural black hairstyles as not appropriate for school as silly or unbelievable. This is because I don’t think that hairstyles distract anyone from learning. Thus, I think this edict is ineffective.

      I also objected to the categorizing of such hairstyles as fads, because they are mainstream styles that are worn by professional people.

      Do NOT put words in my mouth, please.

    • alice

      Relax, I’m not scrappin with you ;)

      “There’s no racism here” is a general assessment of the whole scenario.

      :pours chickadee a glass of wine:

    • chickadee

      I need wine. It’s been a long damn week.

  • Paul White

    1: I think restrictions on hair style and color are largely idiotic in the first place and don’t understand them.
    2: I’m not sure it’s right to claim that just because hair may naturally grow into a style, banning said style is racist. My brother’s high school, when we moved back to TX, banned shoulder length hair for males–and hair will certainly naturally grow shoulder length, as that’s how I wore mine all through high school in Colorado.

    I’m not sure if we’re getting a complete story here, so I’m not going to automatically assume racism is the issue. Stupidity, sure–like I said, I don’t think most restrictions on hair styles make a lot of sense. If your hair might block another students view of the blackboard, or if it’s not washed, I can see it being an issue, but apart from that, who cares how the hell you wear your hair?

  • Ginny

    It’s a stupid rule. I might not like dreadlocks, but that doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to wear their hair how they like. A youngling shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of crap, especially from their school.

  • Momma425

    When I was in high school, this kid in front of me had a huge Afro. I saw the back of his hair, not the chalkboard. So you know what I did? I traded seats with a stoner. It worked out great- I saw the board and got to semi-pay attention in class, the Afro kid wasn’t kicked out of school for being a distraction, the stoner kid could roll his joints without being noticed by the teacher, and I LEARNED HOW TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY OWN LEARNING AND HOW TO SOLVE PROBLEMS.
    The whole idea of telling a child that they can’t dress a certain way, or wear their hair in a certain way “because it is distracting to others” is doing kids a huge disservice in my opinion. If you want kids to grow up and learn how to be successful adults, they need to learn now to appropriately handle distractions. While some work places may have dress codes, other work places don’t and neither does the real world. If all of our boys suddenly lose all focus and concentration if a girl’s shirt straps are less than 3 fingers wide, that the heck are those boys going to do in college when girls come to class in tube tops and shorts the size of maxi pads? If kids can’t focus in an environment where someone else has an Afro and find the hairstyle a distraction from what they are supposed to be doing, I would love to know how the school expects them to handle a situation in which a customer comes into their work with an Afro and they need to sell to that distracting individual?
    Tiana is lovely, her dreads are lovely, and this school needs to lose their stuffy rules. Poor child.

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    The problem is for multiple generations black women have been chemically straightening their hair to resemble hair of white and asian people and have been wearing wigs/weaves, etc to achieve that look.

    Unfortunately, mainstream society views these unnatural and damaging practices as the norm for black people, and see wearing hair in its natural state such as afros, curls, dreads and braids as a fad or some sort of social statement.

    This is why many black women, including myself are very passionate about our hair and keeping it natural and healthy and not conforming to false standards of beauty by burning our hair, preventing it from growing to achieve a straight look then having to rely on wigs and weaves to cover up the damage.

    I can go on all day but I won’t!

    • sasareta

      I totally agree.

  • MW

    It seems to me this article is a bit one-sided and is trying too hard to make this a race issue. First, according to the school’s website, the board of directors and the administration of this school are mostly, if not all African American Second, to say that dreadlocks are associated with “African American hair” is an over generalization as dreadlocks are primarily associated with Rastafarian-ism and not African American culture as a whole. (Side note: isn’t this the same kind of assumption that caused an uproar on this site regarding Prince George’s nursery being “African themed”?) To make this kind of statement improperly conflates these two groups as not every black person is Rastafarian and not every Rastafarian is black. This argument is only slightly better as it applies to Afros, but weren’t they common in the 70′s for both white and black people? (I was not alive then, so I cannot say for certain). Third, as to statement that the school wants the students’ hair conform to “presumely [sic] white peers”, is also misleading. The school’s website provides that it has “a diverse student body comprised mostly of students indigenous to the economic and social deprive parts of Tulsa.” Last, this article is a good example of how some of the articles on this site emphasize certain facts of a given incident that support their point of view, but ignore those that are not favorable to the point being made. I am not saying that the author needs to agree with all counterarguments or points of view, but it is intellectually dishonest to fail to at least mention that unfavorable facts exist and failure to do so undermine’s the author’s credibility.

  • sasareta

    I began wearing an afro in 10th grade, and I got some looks! I even unintentionally inspired a black female teacher to wear her natural hair. I was one of the only ones walking around an with an afro because that’s my natural hair texture, so why should I hide it? The Afro is not “faddish.” It’s being comfortable with the way you were born.

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