A private school in Waldorf, Maryland (Charles County -- southeast of D.C.) has suspended a three-year old boy for wearing dreadlocks. The family is suing, alleging racial discrimination. Hairstyles are a surprisingly robust area of anti-discrimination studies, but I'm not really interested in the legal aspects of the case right now. While I think that the law should presumptively cover expressive elements of one's racial identity (a presumption that can be overruled, obviously), my understanding is that the current precedent isn't there yet. Unfortunate, but so it goes.
Rather, what I want to focus on is the school's dress regulation which the boy was cited as violating. It prohibits boys from wearing "extreme faddish hairstyles, including the use of rubber bands or the 'twisting' of hair." This is rather puzzling -- not because it's an unreasonable rule, but because I do not know how dreadlocks can accurately be labeled either "extreme" or "faddish." Dreadlocks have a long and distinguished history as a hairstyle -- it being particularly amenable to the type of kinky hair Black men and women tend to possess. They are neither new, nor strange, nor exotic, nor fleeting. They might, however, seem that way to a White schoolmaster, unaccustomed to how Black people's hair actually behaves (let alone the history of Black hairstyling). Like most other hair regimes, I've seen dreadlocks look very stylish and professional, and I've seen them look ugly and sloppy. But there is nothing intrinsic to them that makes it a worthwhile goal to ban them.
And that's what annoys me about cases like this. Without fail, the school responds to the controversy merely by blithely asserting how it has a "right" to establish a dress code. Certainly, it does, but that says nothing about whether this particular code (or application thereof) is intelligent. This is a dumb requirement. It is silly to ban three-year old kids from wearing dreadlocks, anymore than banning them from wearing pony tails. It's ridiculous to assert that dreads are "extreme" or "faddish". It's mean-spirited to kick a three-year old out of class for having the wrong hair. Charles County's Black population has exploded in recent years, and not all the local residents are pleased about it. When a school digs in and tries to defend a foolish rule that overwhelmingly affects its Black students, I start to wonder whether there isn't some latent hostility as well.