My son's hair shouldn't limit his future—but it could
On June 7, 2019, the Outdoor Recreation Center of Wendell in North Carolina posted the private pool club’s summer hours and rules. At first glance, these expectations are all reasonable. But hidden among the regulations was the following: “no baggy pants, no dread-locks/weaves/extensions or revealing clothing will be permitted or you will be asked to leave.”
Within a week, the rule was shared widely across social media and drew a sizable amount of criticism. To some, it’s worth noting that the club owners, a white couple, issued an apology of sorts, saying they didn’t know that dreadlocks weren’t false hair. Still, they stood by their ban on extensions.
This news was infuriating, but a clear reminder of why I’m wary of public and private dress codes and bans that disproportionately impact black youth, including 3-year-old boys with long plaits, like my son. Our family shouldn’t be stereotyped, excluded, and banned based on our hairstyles. And while more states are passing anti-discrimination policies, we’re constantly being reminded there’s always a work-around for racism.
Our household contains a seemingly oxymoronic set of aesthetics. My husband is a black man who chose to give up his freedom to dress how he wants for the opportunity to participate in the military. It was a family tradition as well as an opportunity to use his knowledge of computers for something larger. It was also a way for us to leave poverty and start a family.
Before leaving for basic training, he had a head full of beautiful dark curls. Cutting them off was the last step when it was time to go. Our son is a 3-year-old with long plaits that he loves to shake while saying, “Dad, look at my hair!” Other times, he wears cornrows. Unbraided, his hair falls near to the middle of his back. On rare occasions, or when I’m too tired to restyle his hair immediately after washing, his afro is allowed to soar. His curls are a mix of mine and my husband’s textures, with my color and his brilliant shine.
The act of styling black hair is grounded in cultural customs, resistance, and even politics, and the last decade has represented the most recent of revolutions for black hair.