A Kink in the System: Tiana Parker and the Respectable Negro

 

A little over a month ago, I was in Florida washing my hands in a restroom sink at the hotel I was staying at when a young woman popped out of the stall to compliment my hair.  I gave her my thanks and we had a brief discussion about natural hair and eventually, another young woman joined the conversation. As we talked, they revealed that they had been looking at my hair for days and it was refreshing to see after swimming in a sea of relaxed and flat ironed hair. I also felt refreshed because I thought I was the only one that noticed the lack of naps walking around the hotel and its convention center. We were there for a journalism convention and to be blunt, a lot of the women looked alike from their outfits to the strands of their hair. Anyone that has ever been to a convention knows that appearances are everything because you’re probably networking your ass off. Everyone took on the part of the respectable negro that week, myself included. Although we are supposedly in the midst of a natural hair revolution, hair issues are definitely still a thing. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have to write a second post in a row about it.

I was cute at the convention y’all!

My article about Sheryl Underwood’s comments regarding black hair was barely up for a few hours before I heard about Tiana Parker, the little girl who was reprimanded for wearing her hair in locs at her former school. According to the school’s dress code, locs and afros are considered “faddish” while it is acceptable for a child to wear hair extensions as long as they don’t go past her shoulders. Pointing out the flaws in the policy itself is too damn easy and has been done ad nauseum across the internet. My big issue is the fact that the school’s founder and executive director looks like this:

In addition, the majority of the school’s staff is BLACK. Black people made this rule. Black people referred to their own hair as faddish and adhere to the idea that our kinks, curls, coils and naps are not professionally acceptable. Sadly, Tiana is not the first child to be victimized because of her hair texture. Last year, the Horizon Science Academy in Ohio tried to ban afro puffs and twisted hair. This issue isn’t just affecting the babies either. Hampton University has a policy that bans business majors from wearing their hair in cornrows or locs.

The justification?

We’ve been very successful. We’ve placed more than 99 percent of the students who have graduated from this school, this program. These students choose to be in this program and aspire to be leaders in the business world.  We model these students after the top African-Americans in the business world.

What we do is pay tribute to that image and say those are your role models. This is a way you will look when you become president. If you’re going to play baseball, you wear baseball uniforms.  If you’re going to play tennis, your wear tennis uniform.  Well you’re playing that business.

— Sid Credle, Hampton University

This excuse is preposterous but it isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. A lot of us are taught that in order be successful, we have to assimilate. We have to emulate whiteness. I can see why people would feel that way since black unemployment is in the double digits and the wage gap has widened in addition to other issue. However, we should not be raising our kids to assimilate so they can work for someone else for the rest of their lives. We should be promoting entrepreneurship and business acumen instead of teaching them how to tone their blackness down. If anything, we need to make it a goal to blacken our offices. Money is nice but it isn’t worth my heritage.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “A Kink in the System: Tiana Parker and the Respectable Negro

  1. LetmebeRae says:

    So true. It’s sad that that is the perspective of that school council. To instill in our children at a young age that in order to be accepted or to “be somebody”, you have to change your hair that naturally grows from your head to look like one of another race. And what’s worse is that black professionals are passing this ideal down to our children. They get enough of that from other races, but from us? Shame.

  2. Alexandria Adair Vasquez says:

    I think the fact that it is a board made up of mostly black people, shows the level of self-hate that has been internalized by black people in this nation. I don’t think that merely “acting white” will do anything to help us in a fight against systemic oppression — especially when it’s gotten to the point that black people themselves help to perpetuate it.
    I kind of fell into natural hair on accident, but this is the kind of stuff that makes me so glad I did. We need to love ourselves!!!

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