This Is Racism

[Content Note: Racism; misogynoir.]

image of a thin, pretty, black teenage girl with shoulder-length natural hair

This is Vanessa VanDyke, an Orlando teenager who has been threatened with expulsion from Faith Christian Academy, the private school which she has been attending since the third grade, because administrators say that her natural hair is a "distraction," and the student handbook forbids hairstyles that cause disruption in the classroom.

What disruption there has been is that her classmates are teasing her about her hair. So, of course administrators have asked Vanessa to change her hair, rather than admonish her classmates to stop being assholes.

Presumably, this school includes among its staff some teachers and administrators who were alive during the '80s, when white girls were teasing their hair at least that big. (And somehow, despite virtually every female classmate's picture in my yearbooks looking a helluva lot like that picture of Vanessa above, we all managed to get an education.) But of course it has nothing to do with race. Ahem.

This is racism.

It's also body policing of a young woman.

And choice policing of a young woman.

And a reflection that most primary and secondary education in the US being centrally concerned with teaching conformity and deference to authority. Very specifically: Conformity to kyriarchal ideals and authority that is demonstrably institutionally racist and misogynist.

What this school is doing is trying to entrain Vanessa to accept abuse, by threatening her with harm if she refuses to conform to a dehumanizing ideal of who she should be.

While bullies are empowered by the folks in charge.

This is bullshit. This is bullshit.

Naturally, there will be people who will argue that the school would do "the same thing" if it were a white boy with a mohawk. Sure, maybe. Maybe they would. There were definitely white boys with mohawks who got shit about their hair when I was in school. (Although, in every case, they were allowed to keep their hair as it was, and were not expelled. Being Made An Example Of seemed to be sufficient punishment for white boys with mohawks.)

But here's the thing: It's not the same thing. Even if the school took the same approach to a white boy with a mohawk, it's not "the same thing," because white boys with mohawks move within their culture differently than black girls with natural hair. They are judged differently. They are not expressing the same things.

It's not the same thing for a whole lot of reasons, and I won't indulge specious arguments that they are.

[H/T to Doug Williams.]

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