Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Much ado about hair…

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Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise” – Paul McCartney

Have you heard of Tiana?  Have you heard the story of a little girl told by her school that she would need to change her hairstyle in order to continue attending said school?  Tiana is seven years old.  Her school adopted a dress code that banned hairstyles such as “dreadlocks, afros, mohawks and other faddish styles”.  Tiana, a seemingly sweet, well-mannered straight A student has dreadlocks.  She was interviewed on a local Oklahoma t.v. station in tears saying “They didn’t like my dreads.”  The school is the Deborah Brown Community School, a private school in Tulsa funded by Langston University.

Tiana’s father opted to switch her to a different school after the school sent Tiana home for not looking “presentable”.  He said he took offense to that and that he takes pride in his children’s appearance.  The school has since amended it’s policy to allow dreadlocks after coming under fire in the national media.  Tiana’s parents are opting to keep her at her new school, saying in a statement “Our 7 year old daughter Tiana was made to feel that there was something wrong with her appearance”.

This story got me thinking.  Why are some schools so intent on stifling kid’s self expression with how they dress and look?  I understand that clothing cannot be revealing of risque’, but what is wrong with dreadlocks, mohawks, piercings, brightly colored hair?  Some schools say that this is distracting for the kids and they want to create a serious environment.  I assure you there are plenty of people who’s appearance would be considered “alternative” who are very serious.  Many of them are creative, artistic and have a strong sense of who they are.  At least the one’s I’ve known.

Aren’t we supposed to be teaching our kids that different is not bad?  That you don’t judge people by how they look and dress?  Underneath that mohawk or flamboyant outfit is a person with a soul, with a brain who’s not all that different from you.  They dream, they have fears, they love, they cry.  They also choose to express themselves with their appearance.  If as adults we didn’t put our own hang ups about this upon our children, I’m betting they would go to school and not bat an eye when they see someone with purple hair in the hallway.  This kind of judgement and fear of “different” is learned, I really don’t think anyone is born with attitudes about how people should look.  They pick up on it from society, from their parents.  If kids didn’t learn that there is a “normal” and “abnormal” how would it be in any way distracting?  I grant you things would be more interesting at school.  They would learn more about their peers, they would maybe be more open in expressing themselves creatively.  Different is exciting, uniformity is boring.  But distracting?  Only if the adults made a fuss about it.  What is distracting is waiting to see what the teacher or principal is going to do about the kid who came to school with a new nose ring. Everyone is waiting to see the drama unfold.  If there was no expectation of punishment or condemnation from the adults, I would guess that the kids would take notice of the new jewelry and move on.

I never was one of those brave souls who took on an appearance that would garner attention or disapproval.  I always blended in and tried to fly under the radar.  But I did have some friends who were fearless enough to express themselves that way.  In middle school I hung out with the skater crowd.  This group of kids was so much fun, they were witty, intelligent, interesting people.  They could have me cracking up one minute or in a deep, thought provoking conversation the next.   One of my friends was rather large.  He stood out because of his size, but he also had a “crazy” hair style.  He had a shaved head on one side and longer hair on the other that cascaded to his jaw line.  It couldn’t have been easy for him to walk around in our world looking the way he did.  When we would go to the mall we would get dirty looks from adults, shop owners watching us intently to make sure we didn’t steal.  We were not being overly sensitive to people’s reactions.  I know that when I went to the mall with my other friends no one sneered at us or followed us around a store.  These people didn’t know the sweet kid that I did, the one I would spend hours on the phone with talking about our lives, confiding in each other.  It would have been so much easier for my friend to cut his hair short, wear khaki’s and a polo shirt and blend in with everyone else.  But I can’t even imagine him doing that at that time.  His appearance was so much a part of the amazing person he was.  As an adult looking back I realize how incredibly brave he was for sticking to his ideals and not conforming.

So Tiana, I’m glad you’re keeping your dreadlocks.  I’m so glad you have parents that support you and love you.  In an interview, Tiana’s dad said she came to him last year asking for dreadlocks and he agreed (he’s in barber school).  He said, “My daughter Tiana is very unique.  She’s a loner.  She wears (country) boots all the time.  If she finds something she likes, I don’t want anyone to tear her down.  Whether you like it or not, I always taught my kids to be who they want to be.”  Well said Mr. Parker.  I hope others can learn from you, and maybe one day people will be more accepting of all individuals no matter how they look.  Maybe people will one day start to realize that different is good, it gives live a richness, a texture.  Maybe one day people will stop being afraid of different. Tiana, keep embracing your individuality….  maybe one day the world will catch up.


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