Alex Blaze

Get a damn haircut

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 23, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics
Tags: Adrian Arocha, gender roles, Indian boarding schools. Khadijah Farmer, Indians, Michael Savage, Native American, Needville, racism, Raveen, school, Texas

Here's an item that rolls gender anxiety and cultural superiority all into one.

Needville Elementary School in Texas is saying that Adrian Arocha, a 5-year-old Native boy, can't attend school this fall because his hair is too long. The school dress code requires that boys' hair be above the ear and not go below the collar - Adrian and his father, because of religious and cultural practices, have braids that go to their shoulders.

Girls can have long hair.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the same policy used by the US government to eliminate Native cultures in the late 19th and early 20th century at Indian boarding schools:

Whether toddlers or teens, they were taken from home and shipped thousands of miles to dreary barracks. Their hair was cut, they were given new names, and each was assigned a number.

The United States government began this brutal attempt at social engineering in 1879. Breaking rebellious Indians by indoctrinating their children in Anglo ways was considered a cost-effective alternative to war. But the personal cost to native Americans was incalculable.[...]

"When they first took us in school, they gave us government lace-up shoes," one woman says. "Then they gave us a number. My number was always 23."

"When you first started school," says another female voice, "They looked at you, guessed how old you were, set your birthdate and gave you an age. Then they assigned you a Christian name. Mine turned out to be... Fred."

The school district has given a few reasons why this policy is in place - hygiene, safety, distraction - but none addresses why girls can have long hair, and cutting hair isn't really the most practical or effective way to address these concerns. But it's not about any of those things; the policy is about letting non-white and non-conforming people know who's in charge.

It's interesting that the school district is picking this fight on hair specifically, considering how many other cultural practices there are that they could discriminate against. Pam says, regarding Don Imus's "nappy headed hoes" comment, "Hair is political."

The status quo is still straightened hair, even though we see more natural styles in vogue now. Black women are unfortunately still chastised by family and significant others not to 1) cut their hair or 2) let it be kinky. It's one of those "dirty laundry" matters that people don't want to discuss openly, but when you have such poisonous, enabled self-loathing, it needs sunlight upon it. Look at this ad. It implies that the woman got the job because her hair was chemically straightened. The self-loathing is so culturally ingrained, so pathological -- there is nothing wrong with our hair, but nearly every signal received by the dominant culture is that it needs to be "corrected."

The message is clear -- kinky hair is not beautiful -- or good for your pocketbook.

The fact that both Indian boys and black women are expected, with strict economic consequences, to conform to white standards when it comes to hair isn't coincidence.

That's probably because hair is one of the most obvious means of expressing our identities, and it's one of the first things that others read on us. The fact that the school district here is making a distinction between boys and girls, at age 5, shows that they're trying to control not just cultural expression (hell, I don't even know if that's what they were thinking when they wrote up the policy; they may have been just so ensconced in Western hair fashion that they didn't think that other cultures have different interpretations of hair styles), but gender performance at a young age.

Digby said pretty much that when writing a few years ago about hair, hippies, and gender anxiety:

A lot of the shrieking aversion to the dirty hippie came from all that "feminine" hair on men's heads and "masculine" hair on women's bodies, if you'll recall. My brother was constantly harrassed about "looking like a girl" in 1966 Mississippi for having hair below his collar. In those days, hair was a political statement and even though forty years have passed and most of those people can only dream about all that hair they no longer have, the right successfully parlayed that gender role anxiety into a political narrative that continues to powerfully effect politics today.

That's men with long hair, who should be disrespected. Women with short hair are a threat:

CALLER: I'm listening to you with the window open. This mean-faced, clipped-hair, liberal type -- you know, the type you always talk about.


CALLER: She comes up by my window and she goes, "You're listening to hate speech. Why are you listening to that?" And I go, "Wow, you sound pretty angry." And she goes, "You're listening to hate speech. Look at you, listening to a hatemonger." And then, like, there was other traffic coming, she ended up walking away, and I rolled down the window and I go, "You're a loser." And she just walked away and gave me this smug look. But it was pretty --

SAVAGE: Well, what does that tell you about the loving, kind lesbian who just assaulted you in your car? She's a -- the type that stuffed ovens in Hitler's concentration camps. Whenever I hear anyone preaching to me about how compassionate they are, I reach for my Glock.

Notice how easily a short-haired woman who disagrees with a man turns into a lesbian assaulting a man who ought to be killed. Hair is that political to these people.

And discrimination based on non-gender conforming hair on butch women, lesbian or otherwise, isn't a rare occurrence. Remember Khadijah Farmer, who was kicked out of an NYC restaurant because she used the women's room but looked too masculine, and couldn't even persuade the bouncer she was a woman with photo ID? Something tells me thing would have turned out differently had she had more traditionally feminine hair.

So the fact that the Needville School District has a silly policy based on gendered and cultural hair standards isn't surprising considering the long history behind the regulation of hair. The fact that they seem willing to take it to the courts isn't surprising either - the policy was made to enforce a standard without question.

But Adrian hasn't had his hair cut, ever. There's no need for him to get it cut to go to school, no matter how strange it makes some people feel.

His mother is starting a letter-writing campaign on her blog.

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Absolutely ridiculous. I hope they sue the pants off the school district and then can afford to send their kid to private school.

This is a great "article" Alex. Thanks!

Great article Alex! It's absolutely ridiculous that things like this are still happening.

I've had long hair since I was a kid growing up during the tail end of the 60s, and was often harassed for being a sissy, queer, etc., in school. Although I was/am queer, it was still all about my transgression from binary gender standards.

Ethan Pleshe | June 24, 2008 3:59 AM

Thanks for including this article. Yep, unfortunately hair is that poltical.

Jacob Kreusch | February 21, 2010 1:50 AM

Actually this isn't ridiculous. "Oh please forgive us discriminitory and rascist Needvillians for having something called STANDARDS." The family didn't have to move to Needville. In fact, when asked why they moved the family failed to give any satisfying answer. The family could just as easily have sent him over to Lamar, whose jurisdiction is only a few miles away.

Every other male student in the Needville school district is required to have short hair. So this kid is better because his father CLAIMS to have a religion that requires long hair? Look I wouldn't expect an immature douche such as yourself to understand this but if you let one person get by then you have to let EVERYONE get by. A school can't legitimately tell who does and does not have said religion. How about I say that I am a member of a religion called FUCKISTIANS and declare that everyday I must where a shirt saying "FUCK YOUR COUNTRY, FUCK YOUR GOD." Is that right? Read my next paragraph and you'll understand that this is exactly the entire purpose of this incident.

You see Needville had already had to tighten it's dress code policy due to...unsavory language. There was a lawyer(I can't say his name because the mosquito would try to sue me for slander...or better yet emotional trauma for what I would say about him. That's more his style) who was in charge of one case whenever a father INSISTED his girl wear an implicative shirt to school for 3 straight days just to make a point and sued because the school suspended the girl. Now about one 2 years later this family moves in and it wasn't until said lawyer returned from a rather extensive "business" trip that the family announced their intentions not to cut the child's hair. This among the fact that he also presided over this case kinda makes one believe that this wasn't REALLY about religion, but some jackass trying to make a name for himself.

I love how readily some people are to throwout the term rascist. They want to talk about double standards. Well excuse me but, this kid was simply being held to the same standard as all of these other children. America is supposed to be fair right? Isn't that what people such as yourselves keep preaching? So if this child had been allowed to keep his long hair and the others had not, then wouldn't that in itself have been a double standard? Would that not be rascist? So the christians, jews, muslims, hindus, and bhuddists would not be allowed this same privilege? Tell you what guys, when you get a grip on the concept of reality, standards, and rules, THEN you can talk all of the smack that you like.

It is part of simply part of Needville culture to have these things called standards which the rest of America seems to be losing. You could say we are something of a haven for those who still believe in these old fashioned things called rules. While little Jonathan in a town south of Needville(Again avoiding slander but I know for a fact that this did indeed happen) can stab his classmate with a pair of scissors, walk down to the principles office and end up right back in class the next day, we hold our children to a higher standard and degree of responsibility.

So I know what you are going to say about how Needville has this shut off community and that were all a bunch of ignorant, philistinistic, rednecks but consider it in these words. We have created a culture that fondly remembers the older, cleaner, and more optimistic America. This event was an attack on that culture. We have created a culture. We defended it the best we could from attack. And for trying to preserve our beliefs, our customs, and our culture, you sit here behind a computer screen mocking us, degrading us, belittling what we believe in. Needville is not rascist, our school district has made teaching racial equality one of it's primary concerns.
I would simply ask that you consider what I have shared with you and ask yourselves,"Where is the discrimination now?"

mad longhaird mom | March 3, 2010 11:17 PM

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