Editorial: Senseless to punish students for hairstyle

Black hair is unique. It is unique in its expression of culture but, more importantly, unique in how it must be cared for and styled.

Anyone who doesn’t have black hair, and doesn’t think it’s unique, should try growing an Afro or wearing braids, cornrows or dreadlocks.

For black people, the politics of black hair can be touchy, sometimes literally. Common is the experience of children and adults having classmates and work colleagues innocently touch their hair — with and without permission.

But the more serious consequences of black people wearing hairstyles unique to them have been lost jobs and school suspensions.

The latest and notable example of the latter is DeAndre Arnold, until recently a senior at the ironically named Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu. By all accounts a model student, Arnold was told he couldn’t walk the stage at commencement unless he cut his dreadlocks. He refused and was suspended. He has since transferred to another school district.

What’s insidious about the school’s decision is that Arnold began growing his dreadlocks in seventh grade without any complaint or action from school administrators. The new edict was made last December before Christmas break and only a few months before Arnold’s class graduates.

His cousin has been suspended for the same reason. Both wear dreadlocks in honor of their Trinidadian heritage.

Arnold’s case has made him a national figure. Ellen DeGeneres presented him with a $20,000 check for his continued education. Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union flew him and his mother to the Academy Awards, where he was the guest of filmmaker Matthew Cherry. Cherry’s film, “Hair Love,” about a black father learning how to do his daughter’s hair, won the Oscar for best animated short.

But those wonderful gifts won’t be given to future black students who might be suspended from school because of how they wear their hair. And there will be more black students suspended because of how they wear their hair.

That’s why we support the Texas Legislative Black Caucus’ proposed bill for the 2021 session. The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) would ban discrimination based on hair textures and styles associated with one race.

Denying a student the substance of accomplishment because of a chosen hairstyle is what should be suspended.