Despite having vastly different motivations, my husband and I have made an intentional choice not to cut our son’s hair.
I’m the more radical of the two of us. Naturally, my reasons for suggesting that my son keep his hair are mostly political. I do not believe that gender should have such a heavy influence on what children are allowed to wear or how they should look, especially with something as culturally fluid as hair. I am completely over the “good girls have long flowing tresses and guys should have a well-maintained short buzz-cut” binary. Perhaps my frustration with that standard comes from spending all of my life as a Black girl with kinky hair that could never naturally meet the societal preference for “flowing” hair.
Although I cannot say this for sure, I believe that my husband’s preference for our son having long hair comes out of three factors. The first is living vicariously through him, since his appearance is regulated by his job. The second is a resistance to having been forced as a child to get a haircut by his stepfather despite his mother’s protest. And the third is a belief that our son should be the one to decide when he wants his first haircut instead of us forcing it on him.
It’s worth noting that as a “chaotic neutral,” there are many times I am indifferent about whether my son has a haircut regardless of the above beliefs. Much of that indifference comes from me being the primary caretaker of our son’s hair. We do what we can to split the task evenly, but styling is the most arduous of the tasks related to our son’s hair, and that responsibility falls on me.
Although my public opinion wavers depending on how tired I am of hairstyling, I’ve learned that having a long-haired black boy is not for the faint of heart. At least once a week, our family is subjected to unwanted opinions from our loved ones telling us what we should be doing with his hair. And many of these comments suggest that if we want him to have a good quality of life, we need to indoctrinate him into modern beauty standards and get him a fade like most other black boys.
But I want my son to have freedom of creative expression. In my opinion, his hair is an extension of that freedom. At the same time, I know from the many headlines I’ve read over the last few years that the odds are not in our favor.
One of the more recent stories that hit me especially hard was that of 4-year-old Michael, who experienced hair discrimination and was told that he either needed to cut his hair or refer to himself as a girl.
Those similarities only intensified my frustration. Not only was Michael really close in age to my child, but he also wears similar hairstyles, and lives in my home state of Texas.
According to his grandmother, the school official said his hair was too long. As if that comment wasn’t intrusive enough, the comments got even more infuriating.
“[T]he superintendent then gave me three options,” his grandmother Randi Woodley told WCTV. “He told me that I could either cut it, braid it and pin it up, or put my grandson in a dress and send him to school. And when prompted, my grandson must say he’s a girl.”
This school’s dress code prohibits “ponytails, ducktails, rat-tails, male buns, or puff balls on male students.” Michael’s family is working hard to change these perceptions by being as active in the school as possible, and openly pushing back on these sorts of standards.
My heart goes out to Michael and his family. I have no idea how I would respond if I was faced with that situation. We are fortunate to have enrolled our son in a school where he is not treated differently based on the length or style of his hair. And all of us are happier for it. Whether people realize it or not, boys who have long hair often take pride in the appearance and diversity of styles that they can achieve. Until they are taught that something is wrong with having long hair, they are happy to present themselves authentically.
Still, millions of other boys like Michael, and even girls from time to time, are forced to battle the frustrations that accompany institutional bias and racism. The presence of policies that limit hair length and style based on arbitrary standards of professionalism is unacceptable in today’s day and age.
When we allow our schools to pass these types of “dress codes,” we are sending a message to our children that they should blend in as much as possible. I am not interested in my son learning how to assimilate. My prayers for his life include the ability to live authentically in every situation he finds himself in.
He is intelligent, loving, and a lot of other wonderful things. If someone cannot see those positive attributes because we style his hair in plaits and ponytails, that is their problem, not ours.