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Depriving a Black Student of Opportunities Because of Hair is Racism – So, why did a judge claim otherwise? by Allison Wiltz

Current Issue, Daily Digest

Without enforcement, civil rights legislation is nothing more than nice-sounding words on a page, like a love letter written by a disingenuous author. Laws designed to protect citizens from discrimination are hollow promises when the government fails to hold individuals and organizations to account. At least, that’s how many in the black community are left feeling after following the case of Darryl George, an 18-year-old student in Texas who had been suspended numerous times for wearing a natural hairstyle. 

While school officials claim that his hair is too long, every photo released of Darryl shows him wearing his hair in a braided style, not one where his locs hang below the shoulders. And yet, he’s received constant pressure from school administrators to cut his hair, to conform. On its face, it seems like the school’s decision to deprive Darryl of educational opportunities is a clear-cut example of racism. However, a state district judge, Chap Cain III, ruled Thursday “in favor of the school district,” claiming that suspending Darryl does not violate the CROWN Act. 

In September 2023, Texas’ state legislature passed H.B. №567, better known as the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” which prohibits “discrimination in student dress or grooming policy,” specifically citing protective hairstyles, such as “braids, locks, and twists.” Furthermore, section (b) clarifies that “any student dress or grooming policy adopted by a school district, including a student dress or grooming policy for any extracurricular activity, may not discriminate against a hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly or historically associated with race.” Darryl wore his dreadlocks in a braided, protective style, which is one historically rooted in the black community. 

The judge did not support Darryl George’s claim that the administration’s suspension violated the CROWN Act. By my estimate, officials are exploiting a loophole in the legislation. They’ve been careful never to say aloud that the texture or style of Darryl’s hair is the problem and, instead, are complaining about the length. This is rooted in an archaic, sexist belief that men should not have long hair. However, boys and men often wear long hair outside of Eurocentric culture, particularly in West African and Indigenous cultures. Secondly, if someone braids their hair so it never touches their shoulders, why should it matter if their hair is technically long? 

This is how color-blind racism operates: silent, with brutal efficiency. By denying racist intentions, White people often escape accountability. This is something I learned years ago before the CROWN Act began passing in some states throughout the country. White people are aware of the lines they can and cannot cross. Before New Orleans passed similar legislation locally, I experienced hair discrimination from an employer who wanted to ensure I had twists and not locs before offering me a position. Now that the law explicitly prohibits discriminating against the texture of someone’s hair, they’d likely refrain from making such statements out loud. Instead, they could deny me the opportunity without uttering an unkind word. 

There are dire consequences, mainly when Black women feed into the notion that their hair must be chemically straightened to be seen as professional or worthy. One study showed that two-thirds of Black women change their hair when preparing for an interview. Forty-one percent made the shift from curly to straight. Fifty-four percent believed they needed straight hair to be offered a position. For generations, hair-straightening products have been marketed in the black community. Yet, studies show the regular use of these products is associated with adverse health outcomes, such as the development of uterine fibroids and cancer. To comply with social standards, many unknowingly risked their lives. 

“If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy,” social scientists Joseph-Salisbury and Connelly surmised. They argued that White people often create rules in an effort to maintain social control over Black people in English schools. And the same can be said of American schools. By setting white-centered grooming standards, White people are pathologizing blackness, thereby maintaining racial privilege. This is why natural black hairstyles are often seen as revolutionary since black hair in its natural state is seen as contrary to the expectations of white society. 

For many Black Americans, suspending Darryl George and depriving him of educational opportunities is a clear-cut example of racism and violates the CROWN Act, but a judge disagreed. There is no benefit in forcing students to comply with archaic, racist, gendered preferences for students’ hairstyles, but we can see the harm in depriving them of access to education. At this point, they’ve disrupted his junior and senior years in high school, and for what, because some White administrators don’t like his long locs? His family is expected to appeal, but in the meantime, these Texas school administrators are keeping Darryl out of class, depriving him of an equal opportunity to learn and develop the skills he needs to be successful. 

There’s nothing new about policing the black body; this is a tradition that began during chattel slavery. However, this is a shameful policy position on the part of the school and a decision from the judge. They’re trying to force a Black teenager to cut his hair simply to be allowed in the classroom. What type of message does this send to Black children and adults that a law designed to protect them from hair discrimination has failed to do just that? Perhaps the takeaway is that civil rights legislation is a beautiful yet weak shield for racial discrimination. The case of Darryl George shows that without enforcement, the promise to treat Black people equally is an empty one. 


Blackmore-Prince, C., Harlow, S. D., Gargiullo, P., Lee, M. A., & Savitz, D. A. (1999). Chemical hair treatments and adverse pregnancy outcome among Black women in central North Carolina. American journal of epidemiology, 149(8), 712–716. 

Chang, C. J., O’Brien, K. M., Keil, A. P., Gaston, S. A., Jackson, C. L., Sandler, D. P., & White, A. J. (2022). Use of Straighteners and Other Hair Products and Incident Uterine Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 114(12), 1636–1645. 

Joseph-Salisbury, R., & Connelly, L. (2018). ‘If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy’: Black hair as a site of ‘post-racial’ social control in English schools. Social Sciences, 7(11), 219. 

Allison Wiltz is a Civil Rights Activist, writer, and English Teacher. She addresses injustices in her writing to create a more inclusive society. Ms. Wiltz has received a Master’s Degree in the Science of Psychology, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology.

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