written by Renee; originally posted at Womanist Musings
All black women have a story to tell about their hair and how it has impacted their vision of what beauty is. I know that for quite sometime as a child, I thought I was ugly in large part due to my hair. I envied the white girls I went to school with and so I was ecstatic when I could finally straighten by hair. I processed my hair until the age of 26 sure in the belief that natural black hair was not only unkept but ugly. For me, this was certainly a reflection of my internalized racism.
The feelings I had about my hair certainly did not manifest from nowhere. They were absolutely a reflection of the fact that my mind had become colonized because I lived in a white supremacist state. (Breathe easy Canadians, racism is just as bad in Canada, we just hide it better) When I have written about what black women go through with their hair, inevitably some white person tells me that they can identify or that Whiteness does not care about black hair. Of course, none of this is in the last bit true. Little black girls are bullied constantly about their hair, and it does not always come from other children.
It began with a 7-year-old asking her mother to tie colorful Jolly Rancher candies to the ends of her braids, copying a hairstyle she had admired in a magazine, for school picture day.
But the girl’s mother said a teacher posted pictures of the second-grader on Facebook, then led online friends in mocking the hairdo. Now Chicago Public Schools said it’s investigating.
The Overton Elementary School principal “said this was a good teacher, but this was a case of poor judgment,” said CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond. “It will warrant disciplinary action.”
Lucinda Williams said that after she complained to the principal, the teacher apologized and told her she had taken down the page.
But, “what bothers me is that (the teacher) still hasn’t apologized to my baby,” she said. “No child should have to go to school to be bullied by their teacher.” (source)
Ukailya was held up for mockery and the teacher only viewed her actions as problematic when Ukailya’s mother Lucinda Williams complained. How hard is it to understand that an adult mocking a child is wrong? Time and time again I have pointed out that Black children are simply not allowed to experience their childhood with the same careless abandon that White children are. This occurs despite the social discourse that children exist as a protected class. Teachers are placed into a position of power over children and this act is an absolute violation of trust.
I really do feel that it is particularly relevant that the teacher did not feel that she had to apologize to Ukailya. When we apologize, it places us into a position of submission and this is something many adults do not feel comfortable doing with children, and in this way we deny their humanity. As a parent, I have apologized numerous times to my children, and believe that as I continue to make mistakes, that this is something I will continue to have to do. Not feeling the need to apologize is a very strong statement of privilege and whether or not adults like to believe it is possible, adult privielge not only exists, it is very much normalized. When the child in question of colour, this oppression is that much more normalized because black bodies are devalued and black children are seen as surplus population.
The hairstyle that Ukailya chose is something I have seen repeatedly on little black girls. I think that it is cute and an expression of self. Even if the computer teacher in question could not see the positive in her hairstyle she had no business holding her up to ridicule. black hair will not hang and flow like white hair but it can do amazing fun things and to ridicule this girl for using an option that white girls cannot just smacks of racism and a desire to shame.