I nearly laughed myself silly over this recent piece at Newsweek.com:
Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending a prom because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, about 9 miles from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.
Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”
“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to target only students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions reflecting their African-American culture.
Not that there’s anything funny about the racism to which Maya and Deanna Cook continue to be subjected, no. It’s rather that Newsweek writes this entire article without placing the racist dress code enforcement in the context of, say, racist standards of beauty more generally, or even of sexism more generally, and certainly not in the context of the unique hurdles that Black women have faced specifically as Black women for hundreds of years.
At the very end of the article, they do cite a couple of other specific cases, but there is no attempt to recognize a pattern – no, these are all disparate incidents in the land of Newsweek.com:
The Mystic Valley Charter School is just one of many that have come under fire for enforcing dress code policies that prohibit braids and other hairstyles representative of African-American culture. In 2016, Butler Traditional High school in Louisville, Kentucky was accused of purporting a racist dress code policy after it banned students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and braids. The school amended the controversial hair policy following a flood of outraged parents, including state Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat, who took to social media to condemn the school.
The U.S. military faced severe backlash in 2014 after banning natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and twists.
“One of many,” sure, but we can only find one other school to name in this article. And we have to make sure that we note that there was establishment condemnation of that school. No less a person of power and privilege than a Kentucky State Representative took to social media to condemn the school. So this problem must be under control, right? When we have legislators on it?
Yeah, now might be the time to mention that Representative Attica Scott, the one Newsweek.com makes sure to mention is a Democrat, also happens to be a woman. They forgot to mention that.
Oh, and also happens to be Black. Newsweek.com forgot to note that as well.
Oh, and also the racist power structure of Kentucky is so formidable that it was huge-ass news when Attica Scott won the Democratic primary election for her district. I rather think that if someone other than the first Black woman to hold elected office in Kentucky’s state government in 20 years had criticized the racist, sexist enforcement of dress codes, they probably would have noted that. And in the absence of that, it seems like it would be relevant to their readers to know that they only state elected official they could find to have condemned the school is a Black woman. It just seems like that context might provide some useful background information that would allow readers to make some reasonable inferences about how these racist and sexist dress code implementations keep isolated-ly happening.
But then again it would have required the difficult reporting work of googling, “racism sexism ‘dress code’ schools,” to find out what University of Alabama chemical & biological engineering student Lindsey Macher already knows:
Cities across the country have been brought to national attention for enforcement of strict, unfair high school dress codes. Dress codes are inherently oppressive because they seek to regulate women’s bodies and discriminate against racially marginalized communities. Fed-up students have begun to fight these rules by posting flyers critical of the codes and by taking to social media to critique these rules’ inherent misogyny and racism. The hashtag #IAmMoreThanADistraction has inspired solidarity among schools nationwide in response to discriminatory dress codes
According to LinkedIn, this woman is an expert on – or at least has personally participated in research on – replacing Gadolinium in contrast agents used to enhance visibility and resolution in medical MRI scanning. Would that Newsweek.com could get someone at least as experienced in examining intersections of racism and sexism to write about the widespread and well-founded criticisms of dress codes’ systematic establishment bias.
But no. Newsweek would rather spend its time being shocked – shocked! – to find racism in its establishment.