A high school wrestler was forced to cut his hair or forfeit a wrestling match in New Jersey.
A 6-year-old boy in Florida was turned away from a private Christian academy on his first day of school because his hair extended below his ears.
And a New Orleans-area girl was sent home at the start of the school year from a Catholic school for wearing braids.
All three of the children are black. All wore natural, chemical-free hairstyles. All three incidents were caught on video, drawing widespread attention and condemnation.
These are just a few instances of what civil rights advocates say is a growing problem of discrimination against African-Americans — adults at work as well as children at school — due to their hair.
Rules on hair at work and school are not new, but more black people are coming up against them now than in the past due to the popularity of leaving hair natural, said Ama Karikari-Yawson, a lawyer and diversity trainer on Long Island, New York.
“In the past, the regulations existed, but African-Americans often conformed through haircuts, wigs and relaxers,” Karikari-Yawson said. “Now, more of us are choosing not to conform, and so the conflicts are coming to light.”
Natural hair is intimately associated with racial identity for African-Americans, she said.
The natural hair movement, which encourages black people to wear their hair in its normal, coiled, coarse or curly state, started when more people began shunning chemical relaxers and embracing their Afro-textured hair for health and cosmetic reasons.
Recent studies have linked the ingredients in relaxers, which chemically straighten hair, to uterine fibroids, cancer, and other illnesses. Mintel, a market research firm, estimates that retail sales of at-home relaxers declined 22.7 percent from 2016 to 2018.
Natural hairstyles, such as braids and dreadlocks, are also appealing because they can require minimal upkeep, although dreadlocks are often started on short hair and must be regularly maintained.
Moreover, celebrities such as Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, Ava DuVernay, and rising political star Stacey Abrams have sported natural hairstyles, inspiring other black people to wear cornrows or braids, dreadlocks and twists, Karikari-Yawson said.
The growing prevalence of natural hairstyles among blacks does not always mean growing acceptance.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights recognized a problem of discrimination based on hair or hairstyle with new guidance this week that classifies such restrictions in workplaces, schools and public places as racial discrimination.
The guidelines point specifically to the rights of people to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
Schools around the country, with their widely varying rules on appearance and dress, can sometimes be particularly rigid about hair.
“In recent years, there has been a troubling uptick of stories surrounding children being targeted for natural hair textures and styles prohibited in school dress codes,” said Patricia Okonta, a legal fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
That can cause students to lose out educationally, if they are suspended or forced to transfer to another school because of hair policies, she said.
“Students are having educational opportunities disrupted for simply being themselves,” Okonta said. “For embracing their blackness.”
‘If that’s not bias, I don’t know what is’
Clinton Stanley Jr. wore his excitement on the first day of school.
Dressed in navy pants, a button-down shirt and tie — the uniform for his new school — his pride showed in a video of the occasion filmed by his dad in August 2018.
But the excitement turned to hurt when the school, A Book’s Christian Academy in Apopka, Florida, north of Orlando, turned him away, saying his hairstyle — dreadlocks — was not allowed.
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“My son just got told he cannot attend this school with his hair,” his father, Clinton Stanley Sr., said in the video. “If that’s not bias, I don’t know what is.”
Dreadlocks hang like individual braids and are sectioned, twisted and often in rope-like pieces.
The incident prompted the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the national American Civil Liberties Union and its Florida chapter to file an administrative complaint with the Florida Department of Education.