Hair

Hair. We use it as a way to express ourselves, as a way to experiment with different styles, a way to figure out who we want to be. But hair represents so much more. In our society, hair, specifically, the “right” hair, gives power. Hair gives privilege. 

When I first transferred to a new school in the fourth grade, I quickly realized that I differed from most of my peers. Previously, I attended a school where I had plenty of friends, classmates, and teachers that looked like me. The same could not be said for my new school - what a difference a fifteen-minute drive made. 

As a child, all I could notice were my differences. The color of my skin, the smells of my food, the texture of my hair. In the eyes of that nine-year-old, there was nothing more I wanted than to fit in. So I did what many other young black girls felt they had to do to be accepted by a society so different from them. I started to straighten my hair. 

Hair has power. Even as a child, I could recognize the significance of one’s hair. After years of learning and unlearning, increased representation, and lots of personal growth, I was able to feel comfortable and confident wearing my natural hair. But this journey to acceptance and appreciation goes far beyond my individual experience. Every day, black people fight to wear their natural hair in a society designed to work against them. 

In the workplace, black hair is often deemed unprofessional. There have been countless instances in which black people have either been fired from a position or not hired altogether because of their hair. The discrimination endures far past the professional realm. Last summer, Texas high school student DeAndre Arnold was suspended for refusing to cut his dreads. This year, Kansas cheerleader Talynn Jefferson was kicked off of her team for refusing to take off her bonnet during team practice. These stories just cover the surface of the discrimination that black people face each day across the country. 

There is reason for hope. Created in 2019, the Crown Act aims to abolish hair discrimination by making it illegal to penalize someone for the way they choose to wear their hair at work or school. Passed in several states, the first being California, the act was recently approved by the House of Representatives and now sits with the Senate. Though there is much more work to be done, this act is a step in the right direction that pushes for racial equality. 

Hair discrimination exposes the deeply rooted ideals of white supremacy that this country was founded on. For many, it is easy to forget the impact of hair. It is all too easy to ignore the privileges that can come with it if you are constantly surrounded by people who look like you. But for some of us, the privilege that comes with having the “right” kind of hair is undeniable. At nine, I could recognize one simple truth, one that many, even now, struggle to accept. Hair is powerful, more so than you think. 

Update: As of February 17th, 2021, the Crown Act has been re-introduced in the State of Michigan. This bill was first introduced in the House in 2019 by Lansing state representative, Sarah Anthony.