In the same week that his state officially prohibited racial discrimination based on hairstyles, a Black high school student in Texas found himself suspended from school due to what school officials claimed was a violation of the district’s dress code by his locs.
Darryl George, a 17-year-old junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, received an in-school suspension after being informed that his hair extended below his eyebrows and earlobes.
Darryl, who wears his hair in thick, twisted dreadlocks tied on top of his head, was left to serve the suspension. His mother, Darresha George, shared that he intends to return to school the following Monday with his dreadlocks secured in a ponytail, even if it leads to his assignment to an alternative school.
This incident highlights ongoing debates concerning hair discrimination in educational institutions and workplaces. It also serves as an early test of Texas’ recently enacted CROWN Act, which went into effect on September 1.
The CROWN Act, standing for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is designed to prohibit discrimination based on race-related hairstyles.
It prevents employers and schools from penalizing individuals due to their hair texture or protective hairstyles such as Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists, or Bantu knots. Texas is among the 24 states that have enacted their versions of the CROWN Act.
For many Black individuals, hairstyles hold profound cultural and religious significance. According to Candice Matthews, the national minister of politics for the New Black Panther Nation, dreadlocks, in particular, are perceived as a connection to wisdom and hold deep roots in their heritage and spirituality.
Historically, braids and other hairstyles within African societies served as a means of communication, helping identify tribal affiliation and marriage status and providing clues for safety and freedom during periods of enslavement.
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in various forms, Black individuals continued to face societal and professional stigmatization for not adhering to white European beauty standards, which included grooming habits.
Darresha George emphasized that her son had been growing his dreadlocks for nearly a decade without any previous issues or complaints regarding their length. She expressed confusion as to how the school believed his pinned-up hair violated the dress code.
The school’s dress code stipulates that male students’ hair should not extend below their eyebrows, earlobes, or the top of a t-shirt collar and that all student’s hair must be clean, well-groomed, geometrical, and without unnatural colors or variations. The school does not require uniforms.
This isn’t the first time the Barbers Hill Independent School District has faced controversy over its dress code. In 2020, they told another Black male student to cut his dreadlocks to return to school or participate in graduation.
The district superintendent, Greg Poole, defends the policy, stating it teaches students to conform for the betterment of the whole. Nearby districts, however, have less stringent policies.
Allie Booker, the family’s attorney, argues that the school’s position is legally unfounded, as the length is an integral aspect of a hairstyle, which is protected under the law.
Darresha George and her son are steadfast in their refusal to conform to standards they perceive as rooted in prejudice against Black hairstyles and culture.
Darryl George’s suspension has sparked solidarity among young Black individuals nationwide, who have long experienced discriminatory dress codes and unwelcome comments about their hair.
The road ahead remains uncertain for Darryl as he returns to school with his dreadlocks in a ponytail.
His mother is concerned about the impact on his grades and extracurricular activities, as the suspension has set him back academically. The family has even contemplated switching school districts, understanding that the battle is far from over.