Blaming Nature (On Vanessa VanDyke, Rihanna, and Natural Hair)

Jose VilsonJose8 Comments

2013 American Music Awards - Backstage And Audience

Rihanna at the AMAs

In the hood, I’ve seen girls and women rock doobie wraps to tuck in a hairstyle they’ll show off the next day. It’s akin to wearing rollers or, for guys, wearing a doo-rag before gelling their waves. As someone who doesn’t have much hair, I always smirked at the doobie, a rather creative and neat way of keeping a woman’s hair tucked in before a big party or a graduation. Even to this day, I see some of my girls wear doobies on the day of the prom, with black bobbi pins glistening with the classroom light.

Yet, the doobie wrap became the hot topic of the day because Rihanna, pop ultrastar, decided to break the “code” of wearing a non-hairstyle out to an awards show with a studded pin to boot. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, especially since I see women wearing it in public so often. A neatly-placed doobie to an awards show is a natural progression in hair style, akin to how a few rappers have worn doo-rags to similar awards shows. Yet, men don’t get the same type of attention women do for their hair choices, or the heightened blowback if someone sees a fashion faux-pas.

This conversation extended into classroom today when Vanessa VanDyke, a student at Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, FL, was given an ultimatum: fix your hair or leave our school.

Legally, this school can do whatever it wants in the way of conduct or grooming, it seems, including hairstyles and the like. Their code of conduct has a broad brush of unacceptable hairstyles “that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.” Parents who take their children to private school, religious or otherwise, know that they’re not just sending their child to a presumably elite school, but also buying into the culture and status of the school. For children of color entering into predominantly White schools, this means they are often asked to assimilate to a greater extent to the predominant culture and their ways.

Having said that, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it legit.

What really got me about the article was this tidbit here:

VanDyke said she’s had her large, natural hair all year long, but it only became an issue after the family complained about students teasing her about her hair.

“There have been bullies in the school,” said Kent. “There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they’re blaming her.”

“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” said VanDyke.

So, administrators are complicit in the bullying of a young Black girl? If I read that right, and if administrators only told her to change her hair because bullies pushed their buttons to do so, then the administrators are no better than the bullies. Sadly, I keep seeing stories about girls and their hair, hoping someone will actually get it right. Instead, schools have been asked to impose a ridiculous grooming code concerning the hair that grows naturally out of a girl’s hair.

As a teacher, I have a duty to judge someone’s look to an extent. I still think of Nixzmary Brown and how her murder could have been prevented if people had noticed the signs of her abuse early. If I have concerns about a child’s hygiene or change of appearance for legitimate reasons, we have protocols in place, none of which prevent the child from being their best selves.

My job, however, isn’t to teach for appearance. It’s to keep my door open, despite and because of how they look. Too many of us misplace our “caring” by making sure everyone looks the same, acts the same, or speaks the same. Yet, as Vanessa VanDyke proves, we should do our best to accept all children because of their differences and accept that all people may come in different shapes and colors.

As Bill Ivey said on my page, “And third, how good she looks is utterly beside the point. It’s her appearance, her choice. End of story.” Rihanna can have her doobie. I’ll get my shape-up. She’ll leave her hair natural. We’re all fully human. Let’s do better.


*** photo c/o ***

Comments 8

  1. As a woman who is losing her hair, I applaud this post. People en masse are far too concerned about hair. When I started to realize it’s possible that I may have no hair much sooner than it would be socially acceptable, I decided to cut it and have some fun with it before it’s gone. The reactions and responses to an Amber without long tresses has been overwhelming. Apparently, my beauty, my intellect, my self worth and most surprisingly, my value to others resides in my hair. Many people enjoy the short cut, although it gives visibility to my thinning. But the amount of pity and over-sympathetic reactions I receive when I share I cut it because it’s falling out and I wanted to have some fun with it first… Oh God! You’d think I was announcing I had cancer or was dying from some obscure disease. It’s hair. That’s all. As far as I knew it didn’t bite or breathe or impact my brain functioning in any way. In fact, I always thought it was a decorative form of human waste designed to help keep us warm.

    In response to the hysteria, my passive “who cares” has become a question: “why does it matter?” Since it is lost on me why I have almost lost friendships behind their over concern and influx of (previously tried or ridiculous) suggestions to combat me losing my hair. Maybe there’s something I’m missing but my life includes greater concerns than my hair, someone else’s hair, white hair, black hair, thick or thin hair. So now I ask why it matters. So far, I’ve not gotten a solid reason, but – once I find out, I’ll be sure to let you (and Vanessa) know.

    1. Post

      Perfect reply here, Amber. In some ways, I get why some women feel so passionately about hair as a whole. Hair does not a woman make, but the upkeep is often a project, much more so than most men’s hair. Having said that, it actually shouldn’t matter because women ought to wear their hair as they see fit because. Each woman (and man) has to live with their hair; the rest of us don’t.

  2. How ironic is this issue about hair? I had in the early seventies a beautiful third grade African-American teacher Ms. Carpenter who had a wonderful afro. She taught me to embrace my Cuban heritage and calm my quick temper. I looked upon her as being so angelic. Ms. Carpenter’s seemed have a halo at times. I loved her so much.

  3. Where God is not allowed to be chaos is. The bible tells us that long hair on a woman is her glory. I am sure back in biblical days there were no combs. A lot of schools whether private, charter, public or catholic have lost the main focus which should be developing character through learning. Who you are, where you live, your color or gender should not be important.

  4. (1 Corinthians 11:15) But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

    as we can see, her directors, need to know and obey the scriptures!

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