Headscarf Ban Strips Black Culture

At Little Rock Central High School, we are known for celebrating diversity and cultural differences, yet it seems our administrators are picking and choosing which cultures to uphold. The Little Rock School District (LRSD) handbook states that students are not permitted to wear “head coverings unless for religious reasons,” but, it also says, “no shorts or skirts more than four inches above the knee [should be worn at school]” as well. However, the dress code restrictions are not always enforced, and students are able to wear shorts that are above four inches from the knee and religious headscarves. But, black girls are not permitted to wear headscarves. Many black girls have been stopped and physically pulled over by an assistant principal and have been told to go home because of wearing scarfs that pertain to Black culture.

Black girls wearing scarves are representing their culture, and when it starts to get cold out their hair gets dry and scarves holds in moisture. It’s not just a want, it’s a necessity. If Central wants to boast about the celebration and respect for all cultures, it must be inclusive to everybody, not just some.

Junior Khali Crosby said she started wearing scarves in ninth grade, and it was never a problem.

“I would only be called out by one assistant principal. It got to the point where he would tell me to always to take it off, and he would follow me down the hall to get me to take my scarf off, while there were other people with dress code violations, such as shorts, crop tops, and really low V-necks,” Khali said.

Khali felt that she was being discriminated against. She had to explain that because of her kinky hair type, she needed the scarf to tie her hair down, and she shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place.

Sophomore Zania Walker also has been nagged for wearing scarves; her freshman year was the first time she was stopped. Walker was pulled over by an assistant principal who tightly held onto her shoulder; she told the assistant principal that her hair wasn’t done, but she was informed she must take the scarf off anyway. Walker went into the bathroom to call her mom, and our principal came in, tapped her shoulder and said she was going to be given a “pass.”  

Zania felt she wasn’t being treated fairly.

“I’ve seen girls where short crop tops and short shorts. You can see everything. Scarves aren’t affecting anyone’s learning environment.” Another time when Zania wore a scarf, in a style where her head was covered with a opening at the top where her hair could be seen (she was advised to wear them around her head were it wouldn’t fully cover her head), she was stopped again and ended up missing half of her biology class.

Senior La’Zaria Johnson is another black girl who has faced what she considers inequity for wearing scarves. The first time someone said something to her was during her freshman year. She was told it was against policy, to fix her hair, and take it off, so she did. Johnson continued to wear scarves, she just did her best to hide and dodge from the assistant principal.

When she went to the principal to ask why she couldn’t wear scarves, she was told, “We can’t wear costumes.” Johnson felt very disrespected and felt like her culture was being taken away from her even in such a diverse school.

She was stopped another time. “I had on a crop top and high-waisted pants and a half of inch of my stomach showing. I didn’t have a jacket on, and he grabbed me by arm, pulled me aside, and preceded to tug my shirt.” With so many dress code violations students committed, Johnson didn’t understand why she was the one the assistant principal felt the need to get onto. Johnson also revealed that the time she wore shorts, she was told she was not allowed to because of her more curvy figure, although shorts are permitted. She didn’t understand why she was the one being picked out when there were other girls wearing shorts and baggy t-shirts where you couldn’t tell if they even had pants on or not.

Harassment from administration that some girls face needs to be stopped, especially when it is done inconsistently. There are white girls who wear the same shorts black girls – who typically have a fuller body type compared to white girls – wear, and yet black girls are the only ones being dress coded. This dress code enforcement is too relative to body types and thus race. Our races need to be treated equally.

“The current styles that are being promoted in stores have all shorts much shorter than the handbook. If we were to follow the district’s rule, no one would be able to wear shorts ever because the longer shorts are not available for purchase. That was why our school administration agreed that the students could wear the ‘shorter’ shorts.” our principal said. Although this may have some truth to it, many schools still enforce the dress code exactly the way the handbook states and clothing stores provide reasonable options when it comes to shorts.

“We do understand that in some African Americans cultures, depending on the hair style, a scarf would definitely be appropriate. In these instances, the administration will manage each situation on a case-by-case basis,” our principal said. However, this statement is pertaining that African Americans have to make accommodations for how their hair naturally is. There is no hairstyle a scarf would be “appropriate” for; our hair is existing as it is, and that’s valid. If one day an African American girl decides to wear a scarf she should be able to without any repercussions.

“I hate that our students think that the head covering issue for young ladies is racial. We never want to promote that message. I know that I have told many a young lady who indicated that she was having “a bad hair day” that she could continue to wear the scarf that day. These are the only situations with which I have dealt… It is hard for me to believe that I ever told a student that her head covering was a ‘costume.’ I do not recall ever saying those words. Please remember that I am the one who promotes costumes for Homecoming week and Halloween! I don’t see head coverings as ‘costumes.’ However, if that is the impression that I gave Ms. Johnson, I apologize. That was not my intention” our principal said.

I feel that it’s necessary that we don’t steer away from the fact that this is a racial issue. Other than religious reasons, black girls are the only people who wear scarves and are missing class because of it. This is a racial issue and needs to be handled accordingly in the great, diverse Central High School.

You can sign our petition to end this ban here: https://www.thepetitionsite.com/476/041/546/lift-the-head-scarf-ban/

The model dress code proposed by the #PassTheSkirt movement will allow headscarves to be worn by anyone who wants to wear one.

Photo by Ruth Arnold. Front row left to right: Jamaica Myton, Laura Orsi, Brianna Flemming. Back row: James Slack, CeeCee Burton
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