A Texas teen’s family is speaking out against his school’s racist dress code policy this week, and it’s unsurprisingly making white folks on Facebook act like assholes.
Deandre Arnold is a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu. In honor of his dad’s Trinidadian heritage, the boy has been growing out his dreadlocks since seventh grade. Despite an outdated, oppressive dress code that deems long hair on boys unacceptable, the school has respected Arnold’s right to wear his hair up in a ponytail. His parents even signed an agreement with the district to allow for an exemption, which would respect the spiritual and cultural significance of the student keeping his hair long.
But then something totally shitty happened. The school went behind the parents’ backs, changing the signed agreement without their knowledge or consent. Just before winter break, the district infuriatingly and swiftly suspended the 18-year-old for violating their newly amended school policy. In classic discriminatory fashion, they demanded that Arnold immediately cut his dreadlocks or face exclusion from walking with his classmates at graduation.
So to sum up, a school district didn’t feel like respecting the cultural heritage of one of their students, so they sneakily changed their dress code policy at the last minute, screamed “School rules!” halfway through the academic year, and shamed him with immediate punishment.
If that pisses you off (and it should), what happens next is going to make you want to mama bear roar at the world.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the boy’s family was joined by Black Lives Matter activists as they collectively petitioned the predominately white school board. United Urban Alumni Association executive director Gary Monroe showed up too, urging board members to reconsider their decision and stating that their actions were in direct violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as it applies to religious beliefs.
After hearing a ton of compelling objections from Arnold’s supporters, the white board members at Barbers Hill High School didn’t budge on their ruling. This poor kid is still going to be potentially banned from walking in his gradation, and that fucking sucks.
“The dress code is designed by white people for white people and is damaging to black bodies,” Black Lives Matter activist Ashton Woods said in an interview with KHOU.
Understandably, Arnold’s parents are planning to take their case to federal court should the school refuse to change their policy.
“We’re here for Deandre, but it’s about more than that,” Arnold’s mother told KHOU. “This is about all the other Deandres that could come through Barbers Hill.”
And they aren’t the only ones speaking up for the teen. A bunch of news publications have covered Arnold’s story, which led his battle against the school to go viral. I caught wind of it when an article popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, along with an online call-to-action urging people to contact Barbers Hill High School in support of the teen.
Being the scary mommy that I am, Deandre Arnold’s story broke my fucking heart. I am furious. I already disagree with the vast majority of oppressive dress code policies in most schools, and I have zero tolerance for any rule that hatefully excludes someone’s culture and heritage. In an effort to garner more attention for Arnold, I shared an article about him on my personal Facebook page today and explained how friends could join me in calling the school to support him.
I wish I could say I was surprised to find opposition to my post, but I’m not. In the comments section, one woman brimming with white privilege decided to take passionate issue with the racial aspect of the article.
“I don’t see how this is a black or white issue,” she said. “It’s a dress code violation. If my white son wanted to attend that school, he would have to cut his hair,” she says.
A college classmate of mine chimed in, sharing her vulnerable lived experience as a black woman in America. “Dreadlocks are less about length than they are about protective style,” she explained. “I chemically relaxed my hair for twenty-six years because anytime I did not and wore it natural, I was either bullied by classmates and teachers or told I was violating dress code. It’s a deeply rooted issue that tracks back to slavery and exists in our educational systems today.”
Here we have an incredibly thoughtful response from someone who actually empathizes with Arnold, and instead of some understanding, it provoked more ignorant disagreement.
“If they can make white boys cut their hair, then that should also apply to black boys,” the white woman said. “Sometimes, I think when we don’t like the rules, we play a race card. It’s not always the issue. And I feel like when we make it an issue, we are only further dividing the nation.”
Excuse me everyone, I’m about to go flip a goddamn table somewhere.
As a white lady who is abundantly aware of her own privilege, I had a lot to say to this other white lady. I referenced additional articles that showed the full scope of Arnold’s story. I communicated about his right to honor his heritage. I shared a Wikipedia article all about the social injustice of discriminating against African-American people for their hair texture. I explained why a 30-year school policy that excludes the rights of certain students should be overturned. And I encouraged the woman refrain from commenting further unless it was to let me know that she had contacted the school herself.
I also took two minutes out of my day and called Barbers Hill School. I was welcomed by the 12th Grade Assistant Principal’s office. When the receptionist asked why I was calling, I shared that I had heard of Deandre Arnold being banned from graduating due to his dreadlocks, and I wanted to publicly oppose the school’s policy. I was immediately transferred to their communications director’s voicemail and promptly left her a message asking to receive a call back.
I still haven’t received a response. No surprise there, but I’m going to continue encouraging anyone and everyone to contact this school in support of Deandre Arnold. And let me be very fucking clear. Defending this 18-year-old boy’s right to wear his dreadlocks in the way he chooses does not make any of us white people heroes or anything. It makes us human beings doing the right fucking thing. We do not need accolades or back-pats for doing the right thing. It’s the very least we can do.
At the end of the day, this is a story about a child who deserves to walk in his high school graduation. This is about an educational institution that needs a goddamn wake up call, as well as all the others that maintain and uphold discriminatory policies. And this is about a time in our nation’s history when it is imperative that we take a stand against racial discrimination, no matter how uncomfortable it might make those around us.
And for goodness fucking sake, if you are a white person using the term “race card,” just take a goddamn seat and zip your ignorant lips.
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