Another day, another institution of learning catches heat over a racist and arbitrary policy against Black hairstyles. While Republican legislators are blocking the passing of the Crown Act, which would prohibit employers and schools from banning protective hairstyles like braids and locs as well as afros, a Florida high school is apologizing for attempting to enforce hair requirements and prevent a Black honors student from walking across the stage at his graduation without cutting his locs.
According to Newsweek, Jacob Rush was a straight-A student at Abeka Academy in Pensacola, Florida. But as far as school officials were concerned, he was still not a model student because he just didn’t fit what they considered to be the proper aesthetic. Jacob’s hair was too Black.
That’s not what administrators said, obviously—because polite racism is often seen as preferable to no racism at all—they simply said his hair needed to be cut before he could receive his diploma in a public setting.
Now, any Black person who has locs or knows someone who does knows it’s considered a “hair journey” to grow them. It takes time to grow them—years. For many Black people, it’s a spiritual journey just as much as it is a physical one. There’s an emotional attachment to their hair that exists and having that attachment severed, figuratively and literally, can be devastating.
So imagine requiring a Black teen to suffer the lasting effect of cutting his locs for a one-day event just so racism and respectability politics could be satisfied. All of this so that a student whose diploma was well-earned can receive it before an audience.
Well, Jacob’s mother, Latrenda Rush, was having none of that white nonsense.
When Rush received an email from an administrator aptly named Karen telling her that her son needed to cut his hair to participate in homeschool graduation, she started a Change.org petition in protest, gaining over 53,000 signatures.
First, let’s start with the email she received.
“I noticed that Jacob’s hair does not meet the requirements for marching at graduation,” administrator Karen Northrop wrote. “As a reminder, for the graduates participating in the ceremony, we ask the gentlemen to have hair tapered and may not come over the ears, eyebrows, or collar [no braids, dreadlocks, buns, or ponytails].”
Rush didn’t respond the way Karen likely hoped she would so she received a follow-up email from Faith Anderson, Assistant Principal for Academics at the school.
“After further review, Abeka Academy must stay consistent with the hair guidelines,” Anderson wrote, adding that if Jacob’s hair wasn’t cut, he would “receive his diploma and diploma cover by mail once all academic work has been received and evaluated.”
Administrators had their chests poked out when telling Rush her son needed to cut his hair in accordance with, well, white supremacy, frankly. But once that petition was launched and the school got put on blast, they must have quickly realized how much of that smoke they didn’t want because they promptly did a 180 on all of it.
“This is our culture…this is who we are!” Rush wrote in the petition, adding that it was “inhumane” and “sickening” to see her son’s academic achievements rewarded with discrimination. In response, the school basically went into damage-control mode.
“Abeka Academy apologizes for the insensitive rule of ‘no dreadlocks’ in the dress and hair guidelines for our optional homeschool graduation,” the school said in a statement posted to Instagram and Facebook. “This does not reflect our desire to respect and serve the broad diversity among ABA students. Therefore, we have removed this reference from our requirements.”
These obligatory statements of contrition virtually always include the words “this does not reflect…” But if that were the case, the Rush family wouldn’t have received, not one, but two emails declaring that the policy does reflect the attitudes of school administrators.
It’s a shame that Black people have to raise a ruckus over something as simple as the way we wear our hair, but America is still America, so here we are—again.