“I am going to strongly encourage you to consider the school’s request and at least shape or have her hair cut. That I believe would resolve the issue,” said Pastor Carl Stephens in an email to the parents of the victim, Vanessa VanDyke (CNN).
Vanessa VanDyke of Orlando, Florida is a private school student at Faith Christian Academy and was constantly bullied by many of the other students for her ‘natural hair.’ The only solution that was brought to VanDyke to fix the problem of the teasing from the other students was for her to compromise herself to satisfy the student body, instead of the students being apprehended for their discriminatory prejudice behavior.
The issue lies in the fact that the first reaction of the school was for the student to fix her “flaw,” not for the bullies to neither refrain nor learn from their prejudice behavior. Because VanDyke is presented as not assimilating to the white American culture, her image comes into question instead of the gazers eyes that have been placed upon her. According to CNN, the school’s student handbook says that students’ hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction. The mother of VanDyke, Sabrina Kent said, “A distraction to one person is not a distraction to another…you can get a kid come in with pimples on his face. Are you going to call that a distraction?”
The consequences of the victimized child was that she was given one week to either make the decision to “tame” her hair and remain at the school, or keep the hair and leave the private school. Then several days later, due to the attention of the issue and backlash of the surrounding black community, the school took back their ultimatum of expulsion however VanDyke was still presented with the option to keep her hair under the consequences of having to relocate to a different school. However, according to a statement sent from the school, “ We are not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We are asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”
America is teaching the child ways of non-verbal required assimilation. The question then becomes; is it really a melting pot, or is the melting pot just not hot enough for right now? The truth is, more often than not this kind of incident occurs. Thus, to question if this is a normal behavior by society is out of the question. There has always been a yearning for assimilation to the white culture within every “American” culture. It’s more common to hear an employer tell their employee that they must cut their hair or “tame” it, especially among those of Afro-decent in order to work for a certain company because the hair doesn’t “look” professional.
Though VanDyke disrupts the hegemonic norms of race and class, the school continues to perpetuate against her decision. As a young black scholar, VanDyke is teased by her own student body because of her refusal to assimilate to white “culture” and is then forced into an unfair standard. What the hegemonic social structure is telling this adolescent is that there will be a clear distinction between what is acceptable, white standards, and what is unacceptable, any tradition of culture, and that if there is any attempt to disrupt this hegemonic socio-cultural economic classist custom then a right to a paid education is put in jeopardy.
The issue is bigger than a fixin’ to the child’s head or a simple comb and gel to the back. It becomes an issue of hierarchy and why the white population is so uncomfortable with this innocent young girl embracing her natural hair. So, because her natural flares out and is of abundance, she is penalized. However, a white person can wear their natural hair and it’s fine. Because straight is pure and anything other than that is not okay! Yet white people want to tease their hair and use multiple products to try to get their hair thick like that of the Afro-decent and let’s not forget the pretty girls who tan to try to be shades and shades darker and wear bronzer in order to “glow” because a white person’s “brown” is beautiful and black is not. We see this everyday, the need for white women to have larger breasts, buttocks, slim waists and large plump lips killing themselves in the gym and using the knife to acquire what blacks already naturally have. The “white” Sara Baartman is praised in modern day culture but the natural black is not. Because blackness on every other race is okay but not for blacks themselves, because anytime blacks have anything to be proud of it’s turned into a joke and twisted by media. Because that’s just how it is and has always been, so why bother to disrupt what seems so “normal.”
What then comes into question is, what is normal and who establishes that? Why does black have to always be in such a negative context? The direst question of all is, who established this one static form of blackness? Truth is, blackness is fluid and multifaceted, there is no cookie cut of blackness because each black person defines it for him/her self. Why does acting black have to consist of acting ignorant, being loud and having the latest pair of…fill in the blank? Then acting white is being intelligent, accepting nothing but excellence and wanting quality. Why does blackness have to be defined by the murderers and robbers that get reported on the news, not to mention that most white crime doesn’t even get covered by the news networks? Because it’s more realistic to think that a white woman was violated by a black man than it is to believe that a black woman has ever been violated by white men, as history proves this to be true looking at Emmett Till’s experiences and how black women throughout history have been stripped of their rights, choices and sexuality in and out of slavery. Because sometimes the lenses that history is told through needs to be cleaned and reevaluated, as it is a grotesque gaze that has always been appropriated, enabling the hegemonic social structure to stay intact. Until the real predators are seen as the people at the top of this social structure and are silenced and the victims are recognized as everyone who falls under them and are uplifted, then a proactive move forward to social justice won’t be possible.
The problem with media, Reverend Al Sharpton, civil rights leader, does a great job of explaining it in his interview with Oprah Winfrey on her series “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” is that media makes fun, creates a character and highlights the black physical presence instead of listening to the voice seeking to be heard. This caricature disables the advocate from creating an effective public space and venue for their community’s issues. For instance, ‘Saturday Night Live’ made fun of Reverend Sharpton in his younger days for being overweight, his permed hair, the way he dressed, often seen in a colorful jogging suit and a chain around his neck, and always being well projected. More often than not the white population thinks it’s humorous to make fun of a race that they have historically oppressed because since they weren’t victims of their own oppression and time has passed, thus blacks are supposed to be “over it”. But what is often not understood is that it is not easy to just “get over” heavy issues nor will he oppressor be granted the opportunity to create that venue of comedic relief because no matter the intelligence, expression of black culture through a white medium openly and freely without being judged and gazed upon by white society is nearly impossible.
Another notable and most often sought out woman; especially during the Black Panther movement is Doctor, whose Ph.D. is most often forgotten by media, Angela Davis. She argued for the communist party during the 70s and is the genius scholar behind the Prison Industrial Complex. What most fail to realize is that she received her Ph.D. and is therefore a producer of knowledge and not just “another uneducated political prisoner.” All people see is the Afro and couple of ideas and assume she is pro-black, stubborn and just another loud obnoxious woman. She rocked the unassimilated Afro and embraced her hair in comparison to what the ‘typical’ American is supposed to look like in opposition to the typical white person.
One may ask what Reverend Al Sharpton, Angela Davis and a young private school student Vanessa VanDyke have in common and it’s the constant pressure of assimilation and who keeps determining what’s appropriate and what’s not. There are many levels of blackness and it seems as though the closest to white that the blackness lies is the closest to acceptance one shall ever receive. Is this okay? No, but that’s how the social structure is set up and like Dr. Beverly Tatum explains in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” racism is rapid and it takes twice the amount of work to get rid of it and to continuously be proactive. What many don’t realize is that even when no action is taking place, it is feeding into the hegemonic social structures not disrupting needed change. In order to create something anew, a common realization amongst the oppressed is needed.
There is power in numbers and throughout history; it is shown time and time again through actively protecting oneself, as did Malcolm X and by gathering rallies, boycotting and refusing services, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What society has to do is be willing to make the majority uncomfortable in the midst of fighting for the minority social justice and stop accepting that, “that’s just the way it is.”
“Girl Faces School Expulsion over Natural Hair – FOX Carolina 21.” Girl Faces School Expulsion over Natural Hair – FOX Carolina 21. Fox Carolina, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://www.foxcarolina.com/story/24078361/girl-faces-school-expulsion-over-natural-hair>.
Nelson, Sara C. “Girl, 12, No Longer Risking Expulsion Over Afro Hair – But Warned She Must Restyle It.” The Huffington Post UK. The Huffington Post United Kingdom, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/11/27/girl-12-no-longer-risking-expulsion-afro-hair–must-restyle-it_n_4348858.html>.
WKMG. “School Gives Student Ultimatum over Hair.” CNN. Cable News Network, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2013/11/27/dnt-school-hair-controversy.wkmg.html>.