Culture and religion are the center of many peoples’ lives. Every person grows up in a certain way depending on their faith, race, country of origin, etc and minorities in the US are often subjected to judgement, discrimination, and diminishing of their cultural practices. It’s unfortunate that in this era, inequality exists in all forms. We still have a long way to go, and the recent actions of a high school in Texas prove just that. DeAndre Arnold, an African American senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, has been prohibited from attending his high school graduation due to his dreadlocks, which are too long for the school’s liking. Should groups with different cultures or beliefs be forced to fight for or fill out waivers in order to abide by them? That’s a definite no for me.
The School’s Policies
DeAndre Arnold has had dreadlocks for years, growing them out as a part of his Trinidadian culture, but in the matter of a few days, he is facing an in-school suspension and has been prohibited from attending his graduation and prom. Arnold’s school district has a (legal) dress code, one which doesn’t allow dreadlocks past a certain length, which Arnold had been working around by having his mother put it in cornrows or up into a bun. Therefore, Arnold and his family were given an ultimatum: they needed to either cut his hair or deal with the repercussions. The school does, however, permit students to fill out exemption forms for medical or religious reasons, allowing them to break the dress code to cater to these needs or beliefs.
Arnold has many supporters, including his parents and people throughout the entire country, who believe that this policy is both racist and sexist. According Sandy Arnold, DeAndre’s mom, “He should get to choose who he identifies himself as, and he shouldn’t be discriminated against. You don’t tell girls they can’t have short hair. It’s so much bigger than DeAndre.” She’s not the only one who thinks so. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., actress Gabrielle Union, and professor and author Ibram X. Kendi all agree. Overall, his supporters have expressed that though his long dreadlocks do not meet the “same expectation” that this school has, his hair does not reflect poorly on him. This “expectation” should not, in fact, be an expectation at all because it is disrespectful to his culture.
Sandy Arnold, DeAndre’s biggest supporter, is not backing down against this dress code policy. Before it was brought to her attention, Arnold said she was unaware that DeAndre could fill out a form, allowing him to wear his dreadlocks, but she doesn’t think students should have to. Why should students of certain faiths be forced to fill out an exemption form to practice their religion? Why shouldn’t they be able to practice freely in the same way that others do? Sandy, herself, has tried to reach out to the superintendent and gone to school board meetings in an attempt to plead her case and educate them on the matter. However, these efforts have been unsuccessful, as she has neither been able to speak to the superintendent or the board, but instead, has been given mere minutes to discuss the topic at the open forum. For her, it’s not enough. A few minutes is not enough to advocate for the school’s minority population.
The School’s Response
In response to Sandy Arnold’s claims and complaints, the school has stuck by the fact that this policy is legal and has existed for 30 years without any major complaints from students of any race. According to Superintendent Poole, this policy is an “expectation of the community.” These “expectations” were put in place to set the students up for the most success, and hair is a part of that. In Poole’s opinion, the Arnolds should fill out one of these forms because they allow “any legally accepted religious or medical exemption” to the school’s dress code.
This school policy, whether it is legal or not, singles out particular students who have a different faith than the majority. I don’t think it was racist in intent, but it does call to attention the constant inequalities between students of the minority and majority. The dress code shouldn’t impact people’s religious practices, and it isn’t right to force people with these beliefs to fill out exemption forms to freely practice their religion in the same way that the majority of the students at school have the freedom to practice theirs. School vacations happen to fall on Christian holidays, and Jewish students, though they don’t get their holidays off, are often excused from the absences and homework on those days (though this scenario could be much better). What about other students? What about their beliefs? Everyone should be accounted for when a school draws up policies their students are forced to abide by. It’s just right.
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.