By Malea Price
First-year student Music Technology major at Jackson State University
Honoring Black History Month 2023, Malea Price participated in a blog writing project about race-based hair discrimination. She and her colleagues in Composition & Literature for Language Arts/Honors English at Jackson State University wrote personal narratives reflecting their experiences and observations. Malea’s post contributes to conversations about the most susceptible victims of race-based hair discrimination, children.
Adults face issues daily that many kids will never be able to understand. Hair discrimination is one of those problems, but children of color are not spared. According to Dove’s CROWN Act campaign, 66% of Black children in majority White schools have faced hair discrimination, and of those, 86% experience this unjust treatment before the age of 12 (2023). The practice of taking adverse action against people who wear their hair in its natural state has long affected youths of various ethnic backgrounds. The damage is diminishing. Unfortunately, it appears to be most rampant in places where children should feel protected, schools.
One of the most disturbing cases involves four-year-old Jett Hawkins, who was sent home from school after his newly braided hair was considered a code of conduct violation (Syska 2022). Hawkins faced humiliation and injustice, all because school officials had a problem with his hair. His mother challenged the district, a legal battle which led to the Jett Hawkins Act, banning discrimination in Illinois schools against hairstyles such as braids, locs, and twists.
In another case, Kimora Sajous, a 14-year-old student in the city of Orlando, was forced to take her bantu knots out for a school photo (Locke 2022). Sajous had to straighten her hair before she could take pictures. The experience left her with a poor self-image, which impacted her for years and made her feel that she looked better with straightened hair. Moving to a school with more students of color eased her anxieties and improved her confidence level. She is now an advocate for the CROWN Act, working to get it passed in Florida and nationally.
Discrimination based on race and hair shouldn’t be a worry for innocent children. Hawkin’s and Sajous’ stories represent the traumas of many other youth. Children of color should be protected regardless of the environment they are in. They should also be able to enjoy their basic rights to live, learn, and experience the world without being stripped of their innocence based upon the hair that grows naturally from their heads.
CROWN Act Campaign. (2023). Race-based hair discrimination starts early. Dove.
Locke, C. (2022). 6 kids speak out against hair discrimination. New York Times.
Syska, J. (2022). Jett Hawkins Act: Mom takes action after 4-year-old sent home over braids.
ABC News Chicago, Channel 7. (2022). https://abc7chicago.com/jett-hawkins-crown-coalition-ida-nelson-black-hair/11573758/