On Mon., Aug. 20, Faith Fennidy, an 11-year-old Black girl, was kicked out of her private school — Christ the King Parish School, in Terrytown, LA — because her hair was braided. Think about that.
For two years, Fennidy wore her hair in braids, but over the summer, Christ the King Parish School changed its handbook. It is now written that:
Only the student’s natural hair is permitted. Extensions, wigs and hairpieces of any kind are not allowed.
The handbook further states that:
Hairstyles and haircuts which are faddish and deemed inappropriate by the administration of Christ the King School must be modified within a specific time limit.
Some people may not see an issue with these new rules. But you just have to look for a moment to understand that this is the tipping point of a much larger issue.
Imagine the pain this 11-year-old Black girl felt. Hair is an area where Black people — more specifically, Black women — have had shame and discrimination heaped upon them. While Black hairstyles and the cultures of ethnic people might be seen as fads by popular culture, something to be worn and then to be tossed aside, these hairstyles come from generations of culture and care. Box braids, dreadlocks, free-form locks, crochet braids: there are so many ways in which we Black people wear our hair, it is not something to be judged.
Protective styles similar to what Fennidy wears, enable Black children to take care of their hair and still participate in school sports, gym classes, swimming and more. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. Or go on YouTube and type in those words, and see a bevy of videos of young women sharing hard-earned tips of how to take care of their hair. Black hair takes time and a different form of care than white hair, and no child should be punished for that fact.
Growing up, whenever I’d walk into a store, there were rarely hair products for Black hair. There were boxes of perms to permanently straighten my kinky, curly texture, but rarely did I see any product made with the intention of taking care of my hair. It wasn’t until I was in high school that a major hair company even made shampoo with Black hair in mind.
Social media heralded a new era. Black women embraced their hair as perm sales declined and women (and some men) began to share their knowledge of how to further care for our locks. It’s a new generation of natural hair, and it speaks to our reclaiming of Blackness.
For so long, Black people were forced to conform not only to European standards of beauty related to hair, but to white standards of what Black hair should look like in order to appear “presentable.” Black people still face discrimination against their hair all over the world and in almost every facet of life. This discrimination even happens in Africa. Yes, Africa. A few years ago, young Black girls in South Africa turned to protest in order to wear their natural hair at school. A few weeks ago, a 6-year-old Black boy was sent home from school in Florida because to his dreadlocks.
Christ the King Parish School is telling Fennidy that her natural hair and the way she cares for it — both of which are anything but “unnatural” — makes her unworthy of an education, unable to sit in a classroom beside her peers, unfit to learn. Christ the King Parish School is telling Fennidy that her very Blackness is why she was kicked out of school. Christ the King Parish is teaching this to every student who walks their hallways.
Think about the range of emotions that Fennidy experienced at the moment she was told to leave. Just 11 years old and already the world has taken issue with how she expresses her unique self as a Black girl. Putting this “new rule” in the school handbook is the modern way to keep Black people out of spaces that we had to fight, march and protest our way into. Fennidy is not the first and she will not be the last Black child to be told that her hair is something to be ashamed of, that a part or all of her Black identity should be hidden. What is unnatural is for a school, especially one with the word “Christ” in its name, to tell students that their culture and appearance make their presence unacceptable.
I look forward to the day that young Black children, and all children of color, can expect to be accepted in this world — as much as their white peers are.