Dear Tiana, your school is wrong: a letter from the islands

I had so many emotions when I saw this news clip circulating online yesterday.

Tiana Parker in tears because the management of her school "didn't like my dreads."

Tiana Parker in tears because the management of her school “didn’t like my dreads.”

It is from Tulsa Oklahoma, where 7 year old Tiana was forced to change schools after being continually harassed by the school’s management over her dreadlocks.

Tiana’s father Terrance Parker told Fox 23 that he was forced to make the decision after a disagreement over her hair with officials at the Deborah Brown Community School left his little girl in tears.

The charter school’s dress code states that:

“Hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”

Apparently, the school feels that could distract from the ‘respectful and serious atmosphere’ it strives for.

…more on that in a moment.

But first this.

Seeing that little girl break down in tears, whispering “they didn’t like my dreads” made me cry. I felt like it was my own daughter they had insulted, it was so hurtful. Just like her father said, it “hurt my feelings to the core.” Worst of all – this is a black-founded and run charter school. So shameful!

I felt like telling little Tiana that I love her hair –  that she is cute as a button with her big pink bow and neat little locks. I felt like telling her that her hair is not faddish, distracting or disrespectful. I wanted to reach out and hug her and assure her that the problem is not with her hair but rather with those who saw something wrong with her God-given hair. I reject those who would say “oh well rules are rules” when those rules have no grounding in sense or fairness.

And this is why I say it has no grounding in sense or fairness.

(Clockwise from top left - Antigua's Minister of Education Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, Barbados' Senate President Kerry-Ann Ifill, Barbados' Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, Barbados' Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, Barbados MP Santia Bradshaw and Antigua's Senator Malaka Parker.

(Clockwise from top left – Antigua’s Minister of Education Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, Barbados’ Senate President Kerry-Ann Ifill, Barbados’ Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, Barbados’ Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, Barbados MP Santia Bradshaw and Antigua’s Senator Malaka Parker.

Look at these women. Caribbean political leaders all – a government Minister, senators including a Senate President and an Opposition Leader.

Do their hairstyles detract from the “respectful and serious” atmospheres of the Houses of Parliament in which they sit? Clearly the people of the Caribbean do not think so for we have elected or selected them to represent us with their “faddish” afros and dreadlocks.

Lord knows we too have a long way to go in the Caribbean. These naturalistas are not yet the rule among our female political leaders or professional women. But they are no longer an exception and kudos to us on that. Everywhere I go now, I see increasing numbers of professional Caribbean women wearing their dreadlocks and fros with dignity, grace and style. They go out in the world and represent us with pride and intellectual power.

Try telling them they’re “faddish.”

And this is the most important thing I would have liked to tell little Tiana. I want to let her know that her school is wrong. They are parochial, they are not looking at how the world outside is changing. Because in my islands, dreads are worn by educated, upstanding, professional, accomplished women.

And one day, she and her beautiful dreads and her straight As (yes, the school harassed a straight A student out!) will be one of those educated, upstanding, accomplished women.

5 comments for “Dear Tiana, your school is wrong: a letter from the islands

  1. Crystal Perez
    September 6, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Well said and I totally agree with everything you mention in your article.. I see it everyday and I am more shocked to see it in the caribbean but it is happening here to. People of our same race telling us that our natural hair is “not presentable” that it is “not good enough” because it makes them feel uncomfortable to look at or be around. I remember when I decided to make the change to go back to my natural hair I just could not deal with the strong damaging chemicals used to relax my hair causing burns to my scalp and major headache I had to endure insensitive comments from my own black friends that really shocked me.. “is that natural or nappy”, “you better put a relaxer on that”, “I think you should put that in a pony tail looks untidy” and the list goes on.. I actually took on the comments and was so scared to be me and wear “my natural hair”…. I thought about it and said wait a minute I love me and I love my hair and I am sorry for those who feel uncomfortable by it but that is your issue not mine…and don’t get me wrong I love straight hair but it is not what grows out of my head. I will sport a weave from time to time cause I love the choices out there to rock a different look but I am a black woman and I love myself and I love my hair and I love my culture and I will be true to me not your….Black people love yourself…

  2. Jamal
    September 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Well said. I always ask myself why African Americans are not collectively climbing the ladder of success, self respect and recognition, social and intellectual dominance. They do not appreciate their own. I was always told that in order to achieve social recognition and respect, we must first treat ourselves and those like us with respect.

  3. Beverley Layne
    September 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    My heart is breaking for this child. How is it that our own people cannot see that these syles best complement the beautiful hair that our creator chose for us? Why are we still fighting to just be ourselves? What they are really saying to this child is that our God given beauty is unacceptable.

    Some of my friends and colleagues tell me that my natural hair is lovely, behind my back they say it’s unprofessional. We are still afraid to embrace our magnificence and that is sad because the moment we do so will the rest of the world.

  4. Desiree
    September 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Well said, well put. We as conscious black women, educated and enlightened are shining examples of being who God made us to be, not faddish, not disrespectful but gifted with a knowledge of who we are and the beauty that lives within us as well as that that exists on the outside. Shame on Debora Brown Community School. It is their loss!

  5. Senator Garner
    September 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    This is heartbreaking. Can you imagine this nonesense is still happening in the “Land of the free…home of the brave…” ? The birthplace of the civil rights movement? Raising our Black children in those countries is exceedingly difficult for culturally conscious parents. Self esteem issues are amplified as they battle against all the stereotypical garbage they have to wade through daily. There are hundreds more like that child who will grow up feeling that Black is not beautiful in a country that continually idolises fair skin and straight hair. I too would love to hug her, and talk to her

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