Schools Continue to Wage War Against Black and Brown Students’ Hair

A New Jersey high school student was forced to choose between cutting his hair and forfeiting a wrestling match. The video of someone standing behind him with scissors chopping his hair off and her (the adult’s) dignity away was appalling.

ESPN reports,

According to SNJ Today, Buena High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, was told by a white referee that he would have to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit during Wednesday’s meet with Oakcrest High School. Johnson and his coaches initially protested the decision before the wrestler ultimately agreed to the quick haircut in a video posted by SNJ Today that has gone viral.

Johnson had intended to cover his dreadlocks with a hair cap, as is permitted by national and state rules, but was not allowed to do so, according to the report.

I wrestled in high school. I coached wrestling with our local Jawala Boy Scouts. Had I been this young man’s coach, I would have used this as a lesson for my entire team. We would have all forfeited our matches before we allowed this team member to submit to the referee who made this demand.

But, it was also interesting to see how folks applauded this haircut and celebrating “team.” If it was a real team, they would have stood beside this young man and demanded the referee back off.

Mike Frankel, used this as an opportunity to celebrate the young man’s decision. Mike took a cowardly and insensitive view of this situation. Instead of calling out a racist referee, Mike wholly ignored the issue and applauded the “team first” mindset.

Mike, you should have stood by the student, instead of standing by the wayward referee. It’s really hard for me to imagine Mike celebrating this incident if the wrestler was a white kid with long hair.

Coaches, educators, and teammates, stand up for your students and players. When you see discrimination in a school, classroom, playground, or at an athletic event, stand up!

It made me think of the history of forcing children of color to submit to white people’s vision for Black and Brown hair, Indian Boarding Schools, suspensions and other attacks over how students of color wear their hair.

Just a few days ago, in New Mexico, a teacher cut an indigenous student’s hair in the classroom.

This also reminds me of our local hero, Nasihah Thompson-King, and her basketball teammates. A referee tried to force Nasihah to remove her headscarf in order to participate in a playoff game. Nasihah refused and challenged the state’s athletic governing body to change the rules. They did.

We must support our youth and ensure they are not forced to make decisions that are based on racism and biases. The war on our children and their hair must end. But, it won’t as long as people celebrate students’ compliance and submission when confronted with racism, instead of supporting them in resisting the racism and biases against Black and Brown hairstyles.

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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