At Texas School, a Fight Over Boy's Dreadlocks

Darryl George, 17, suspended for violating dress code same week a law protecting hair was enacted
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 18, 2023 1:44 PM CDT
At Texas School, a Fight Over Boy's Dreadlocks
Darryl George, 17, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, sits for a photo on Sept. 10, 2023. The same week a state law went into effect prohibiting discrimination on the basis of hair, Darryl was suspended because his hair did not comply with district dress code.   (Darresha George via AP)

The same week his state outlawed racial discrimination based on hairstyles, the AP reports that a Black high school student in Texas was suspended because school officials said his locks violated the district's dress code. Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, received an in-school suspension after he was told his hair fell below his eyebrows and earlobes. Darryl, 17, wears his hair in thick, twisted dreadlocks, tied on top of his head, said his mother, Darresha George. Darryl served the suspension last week. His mother said he plans to return to the Houston-area school on Monday, wearing his dreadlocks in a ponytail, even if he's required to attend an alternative school as a result. The incident recalls debates over hair discrimination in schools and the workplace and is already testing the state's newly enacted CROWN Act, which took effect Sept. 1.

The law, an acronym for "Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair," is intended to prohibit race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or hairstyles including Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists, or Bantu knots. Texas is one of 24 states that has enacted a version of the CROWN Act. A federal version passed in the US House last year, but it wasn't successful in the US Senate. For Black people, hairstyles are more than just a fashion statement. Hair has always played an important role across the Black diaspora, said Candice Matthews, national minister of politics for the New Black Panther Nation. "Dreadlocks are perceived as a connection to wisdom," Matthews says. "This is not a fad, and this is not about getting attention. Hair is our connection to our soul, our heritage, and our connection to God."

In Darryl's family, all the men have dreadlocks, going back generations. To them, the hairstyle has cultural and religious importance, his mother says. "Our hair is where our strength is, that's our roots," George says. "He has his ancestors locked into his hair, and he knows that." Historians say braids and other hairstyles served as methods of communication across African societies, including to ID tribal affiliation or marriage status, and as clues to safety and freedom for those who were enslaved. George says Darryl has been growing his dreadlocks for nearly 10 years and the family never received pushback till now. His dreadlocks hang above his shoulders when let down. She doesn't get how he violated the dress code with his hair pinned up, noting, "I even had a discussion about the CROWN Act with the principal and vice principal. They said the act does not cover the length of his hair."

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The Barbers Hill Independent School District prohibits male students from having hair extending below the eyebrows, earlobes, or top of a T-shirt collar. Hair must be clean, well-groomed, geometrical, and not an unnatural color or variation. Superintendent Greg Poole says the policy is legal. "When you are asked to ... give up something for the betterment of the whole, there is a psychological benefit," Poole says. "We need more teaching [of] sacrifice." George family attorney Allie Booker says the school's argument doesn't hold, as length is considered part of a hairstyle, protected under the law. "You can't tell someone that hairstyles are protected and then be restrictive," she says. George says she and her son refuse to conform to a standard set by someone who's uncomfortable or ignorant. "My son is well-groomed, and his hair is not distracting from anyone's education," she says.

(More Black Americans stories.)

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