Tiana Parker Learned A Lesson and it Wasn’t In School

Last sTianaParkerummer during the London Olympics Gabrielle Douglas’s hair became the subject of endless commentary that had absolutely nothing to do with her historic accomplishments. This week Tiana Parker a 7-year old student at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa Oklahoma was sent home because her hair was not “presentable”. The charter school had a policy that forbids “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles…” After negative national attention, petitions and news coverage the school Board reluctantly revised its policy. Though the language removes specific hairstyles, it hardly improves the schools’ intent. The charter school’s policy now reads, “The Administration reserves the right to contact the parents/guardians regarding any personal hygiene issues that it believes causes a risk to the health, safety and welfare of the student, his or her classmates, and faculty or staff or detracts from the educational environment.”

No question there are much bigger looming political issues in America these days. So why is this important. Because at a time when urban school districts are closing their doors like fire sales, the disparities in race and gender equity remain nightmares for social scientists and little girls self images are being shaped by everything from music videos to celebrities “twerking” it is important to speak truth to power. Barring the Oklahoma ACLU’s legal explanation of constitutional freedom of expression, or the Charter school’s right to their own admissions policy, the fact that the school, the board and the parents are all African American and even the Parker family’s decision to transfer their child to another school——-none of those reasons justify the discriminatory practice of singling out hairstyles in a public academic institution as grounds for dismissal.  And yet, it happens more than you might know. Earlier this year, in Ohio, the Lorain Horizon Science Academy rescinded a similar policy against “afro puffs” and in Virginia Hampton University’s MBA program bans dreadlocks and cornrows for male students.

The public ire surrounding the Tiana Parker incident is about a lot more than simply hair. It is about what the message says to vulnerable little girls. You are not pretty enough, your beauty is qualified because of your hair and your hair makes you different and unwanted. There is no correlation between hairstyles and academic success or a perfect gymnastic floor exercise.  It is well past the time when girls should be measured by who they are and not their hairstyles.