National Hair Day: Addressing Hair Discrimination in Celebration of National Hair Day
October 1, 2023
In celebration of National Hair Day, I want to talk to you about hair discrimination. I know, why do you have to be the downer Dr. Martin. In my defense, it is not me who is the downer. It is racism. In 2019 Dove conducted a research study investigated hair-based discrimination against Black Girls ages 5 to 18. Key findings of the study included Black youth face hair discrimination as young as age five. 66% of Black girls in majority European American schools report hair discrimination. As a licensed clinical psychologist I can state first hand that there is a significant impact on the mental health, self-esteem, and wellbeing of not only youth, built our community as a whole as a result of discrimination of any kind. Individuals experience emotional responses such as shame and embarrassment as well as dissatisfaction with belonging to the Black culture as a whole (Mbilishaka, A. M., Clemons, K., Hudlin, M., Warner, C., & Jones, D. (2020). Don’t get it twisted: Untangling the psychology of hair discrimination within Black communities. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(5), 590).
Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that hair discrimination is not solely faced by girls. Hair discrimination can be faced by boys and non-binary individuals as well. Recently Darryl George, a Black high school student in Texas, has been suspended for reportedly violating dress code (RESOURCE: https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/11/us/barbers-hill-student-hair-suspension/index.html). Specifically, the school is stating that it is not the hair style but the hair length that is the problem, which was remedied when his hair was placed in a style that did not violate the policy. However, the school was not satisfied and stated that if he does not cut his hair he will not be allowed to engage in his lessons. Darryl George has been placed in in-school suspension daily and has also been threatened with “alternative schools.”
This discrimination does not stop with children, there have been multiple studies that discuss the impact of hair discrimination in the workplace against the Black community. In fact a recent study conducted by Dr. Saran Donahoo revealed that Black women consistently fear that they will have negative professional outcomes as aresult of wearing their natural hair. In fact, women in the workplace may even make the sacrifice to sublimate their cultural identity and adapt to European American beauty standards to ensure that the career trajectory is not halted (Donahoo, S. (2023). Working with style: Black women, black hair, and professionalism. Gender, Work & Organization, 30(2), 596-611.). A 2019 CROWN research study (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5edc69fd622c36173f56651f/t/5edeaa2fe5ddef345e087361/1591650865168/Dove_research_brochure2020_FINAL3.pdf) by Dove about hair discrimination in the workplace found that Black women are 80 percent more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work, 83 percent more likely to report being judged more harshly on their looks, and 1.5 times more likely to be sent home or to know of a Black woman who was sent home from the workplace because of her hair. So how should you advocate for yourself and possibly your children when faced with hair discrimination?
Representation: Be sure that your children have different representations not only of the range of cultures, and skin colors of individuals but also hair texture. Talk to your children about the wide variety of hair. The historical context of our hair, the versatility of our hair, and its connection to our culture.
Conversation: When children are faced with biases the automatic thought is to question themselves, but it is important to let children know that it is not their hair that is the issue, it is the person that is judging them. Their race and culture is not the issue, racism is. You want your children to be proud of their culture and heritage, and acknowledge that racism is the culture of oppressors, and while we have to deal with the result of it, it is not all that there are about Black people. It is just as important to discuss Black futures as it is to discuss Black history. Solidify this knowledge by educating your child about stereotypes and where hair biases come from. Allow them to ask questions, and if you don’t have the answers that is fine, look for the answers together.
Relationship Building: Building a healthy and respectful relationship will make your child feel comfortable enough to discuss any adverse experiences even when you are not with them. This will help you advocate for them by speaking to administrators, teachers, and even scheduling meetings with other parents if the hair discrimination is by another child.
Advocacy: Advocate for your children in all environments including school. For example, some schools may have egregious policies about what is “appropriate hair for dress code” or even to participate in extracurricular activities. This is just veiled language to police your child, and it is illegal in many states.
Know Your Rights: The creating a respectful and open world for natural hair act, also known as the CROWN Act, was developed by Adjoa B. Asamoa, Esi Eggleston Bracey, Kelli Richardson Lawson, and Orlena Nwokah, in collaboration with other organizations. The CROWN act provides a legislative intervention to protect those whose hair defies gravity at work, during school, and in the world. It is not passed in all states, but check out this resource to see if it is passed where you reside (https://www.thecrownact.com/)
Self-Advocacy: You cannot be with your child all the time, so you also want to work with them to advocate for themselves. You can role play with your child regarding different scenarios whether it is an adult or a peer that is making them feel bad about their hair or themselves. Providing them with tips and techniques, while practicing these strategies beforehand will help them feel more prepared if the scenarios arise.
Affirmations: With some children they may begin to internalize negative messages that are shared about their hair. They may make statements such as their hair Is “stupid, nappy, or funny looking”. However, the best way to overcome negative experiences is with positive experience because your child is just as likely to absorb positive messages as they are to absorb negative messages. Speak life into your children about their hair, personality, and even values. Work on affirmations with them that can be said every day to start them on the right foot. It’s not just about hair, it’s about their perceived self-worth. How often do you talk to your child, ask about their day, and spend time with them without providing them with tasks to do or “teaching” them a lesson.
Foster Autonomy: Let your child have some autonomy over their hair styles, show them pictures and let them pick, choose barrettes or hair color, heck, let them play in your hair. Let your child know that it is great to take pride in their appearance and have fun with their hair.
Validation & Authenticity: Be sure to listen to your child and validate what they’re going through, it may be helpful to share your own experience with issues when you were their age and discuss how you dealt with it. There’s no need to cover your frustration when topics such as these arise, do not dehumanize yourself the way the world does. Let your child know how you feel so that they feel even more comfortable sharing their concerns. Model for them that it is perfectly fine to feel upset when treated poorly and problem solve ways to handle it together.
This information isn’t only for parents. Many of us as adults feel attacked because of the way we wear our hair. Know your rights, educate yourself, and build community.
Hair & Culture Affirming Resources
- Twisted: The Tangled Hair Story of Black Hair Culture by Emma Dabiri
- Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps
- Hair Love by Matthew A. Harrison
- Zozo Afro by Chuze Baba
- Wash Day Diaries
- Cool Cuts by Mechal Renee Roe
- Happy Hair by Mechal Renee Roe
- Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrice Barnes
Coffee Table Books
- Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty by Kahran Bethencourt
- Textures: The History & Art of Black Hair by Tameka Ellington & Joseph Underwood
- Black Hair Care in Color
Visual Media & Documentaries:
- The Hair Tales: Hulu Docuseries
- No Lye: An American Beauty Story
- Hair Love: Short Film
- Back to Natural: A Documentary Film
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