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Do NOT Put Your Hands on Their HEADS


How did you feel when the Crown Act was passed in the House of Representatives on March 18, 2022? Now, what were your emotions when the Senate blocked the passage of the Crown Act on December 14, 2022?


Some, like me, may have had celebratory responses on March 18 and visceral reactions on December 14, while others may not have heard of the Crown Act before.


The Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) was passed in the House by a vote of 235-189 with the support of both Democrats and Republicans. The Crown Act is a piece of legislation that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. It was designed to address the discrimination Black people, particularly Black women, often face based on their hair texture, natural hair, and protective hairstyles, such as braids, twists, bantu knots, and locs. The legislation was adopted in several states and cities and received widespread support from organizations and advocacy groups.


The Crown Act is important for education as it helps to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for Black students, who have historically faced discrimination based on their natural hair. By creating a norm where Black students can express their identities through their natural hair and protective hairstyles, schools can foster a sense of belonging and community. This will have a positive impact on student engagement and achievement, as research has shown that students who feel a sense of belonging in their school are more likely to be academically successful.


For centuries, Black women have been conditioned to reject the beauty of their natural hair. Their natural hair has historically been stigmatized, and many feel that they need to alter their hair in order to be accepted. Black women have been told that their natural hair is unprofessional or inappropriate, and many have been passed over for job opportunities or promotions because of that prejudice. To prevent backlash and discrimination, many Black women and girls cut or style their hair in a certain way or straighten their hair with heat or chemical treatments that are now linked to uterine cancer.


During slavery, Black bodies were treated as property, and Black women's bodies were often subject to sexual violence and exploitation. This objectification and exploitation extended to Black women's hair, which was often styled in specific ways to conform to White beauty standards and make Black women more appealing to white men. The unauthorized touching of Black women's hair is a continuation of this objectification and exploitation, and can be a deeply disrespectful and triggering experience for Black women and girls. This act suggests that their body and personal space are not deserving of the same respect as others.


As a society, we often place a great deal of importance on personal boundaries and the right to control our own bodies. However, Black women often face microaggressions that violate their personal boundaries. The act of touching someone's hair without consent is a microaggression that can be deeply disrespectful and dehumanizing. Even asking to touch a Black person’s hair is off limits as it is unsanitary, invasive, and makes the presumption that Black hair is an aberration. It is important for individuals to recognize that Black women's bodies and personal boundaries deserve the same respect as those of any other person.

Asking to touch a colleague’s or student’s hair is not inherently wrong, but it is important to consider the context and the potential impact on the person being asked. In some cases, asking to touch someone's hair may be seen as a form of curiosity or admiration. I strongly urge you to consider if you are “othering” the person by bringing attention to their hairstyle. Othering refers to the act of viewing or treating someone as fundamentally different or distinct from oneself, often in a negative or prejudicial manner. Othering is a dynamic in which individuals or groups are labeled as not fitting within the perceived normative social group. It is the antonym of belonging, as it negates someone’s individual humanity and can dehumanize entire groups of people. So be mindful of othering in order to promote inclusivity and respect for diversity.


The Senate vote against the Crown Act suggests that there is a lack of support for policies that promote equity and inclusion. By refusing to support the Crown Act, the Senate is ignoring the demoralizing experiences and challenges faced by people of color, particularly Black women and girls. This is extremely disheartening for individuals and communities affected by race-based discrimination. As such, some Black women and girls may have had strong reactions to the negative outcome of the legislation and feel strongly about its importance.


As an educator, what will you do with all of this information? How can you promote Black hair love without being performative?


There are several ways that you can promote Black hair love in your classroom and school communities:

  • First and foremost - Do not pet Black students' hair and keep your hands away from their heads. No, you cannot touch their hair.

  • Educate yourself about the cultural significance and diversity of Black hair. This can help you understand the experiences and challenges that Black students face in regards to their hair, and how to support and respect their choices.

  • Create a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment. Make it clear that all students are welcome and valued, and that differences in hair, appearance, and culture are celebrated.

  • Encourage students to express their individuality and self-identity through their hair. Support students in wearing their hair in a way that is comfortable and meaningful to them, and discourage any negative comments or actions towards any student’s hair.

  • Review and update school policies. Make sure that your school's policies are not biased against Black hair and consider advocating for changes to policies that are not inclusive.

In conclusion, with or without the support of the Crown Act there are a number of steps educators can take to stop discriminating against the way that Black people choose to wear their hair, including educating themselves about the history and cultural significance of Black hair, communicating with students and their families, and being an ally for inclusive behaviors.


I leave you with this poem by Nina Miriam.

What if We Othered Your Child and You?

By Nina Miriam


What if We Othered Your Child and You?

What if we surrounded you in a sea of blackness

And in an attempt to get to know you,

Peppered you with a barrage of questions and statements

That only served to undercut your value

In our eyes, if you fail our surprise

battery of quizzes and challenges to test your knowledge, your worth,

your view on issues deemed insignificant by you.

What if we told you you’re the first white-skinned Caucasian we knew

and asked to run our hands through your straight hair of red hue?

Without regard for how our actions feel like an assault to you?

On your mind, your body, and Lord, help me, your spirit, too?

Our words leave your young ones off-balance, feeling out of place

Even in what used to feel like the safest space.


We let you know with our lingering gaze, you are an oddity

we do not encounter most days

For we choose to isolate ourselves in the most myriad of ways

What we read, watch, see and play

Is a reflection of us, our experiences, our tastes

That only serve to exclude or erase

Your being, your existence.

Would you persist in these dark spaces? Encourage your ill-equipped child,

to shoulder the burden of educating us, all the while,

fighting the temptation to say nothing and just smile?

To hide their confusion, the shock and dismay?

That in a multicultural world, we still isolate ourselves in such a way

we have so little knowledge of your whiteness that we can say,

you’re the first White-skinned Caucasian I’ve met to this day.

If day out and day in, we othered your child and you,

would we wear you down?

Would you begin to frown

at your pale complexion, and fine thin hair?

To question your right to breathe the same air,

without the awkward pauses, and malignant stares? Maybe you’d invest in

cornrows and tanning creams, as part of a carefully designed plan to make you seem

A little less white.

Or would you seek the comfort of another venue,

One where you were free to just be you,

where your brothers and sisters understand they are created imago dei and

assert that you are, too?

Or maybe you’d simply come to take a stand, and from an early age

guide your sons and daughters through the real world,

not an artificial land

through stories, films, plays, and shows,

through worship, interpersonal relationships, bridge-building, and who knows?

I’m confident they would come to see, the world is full of people like them, and me.

That we’re all a part of God’s intricately woven tapestry

stitched together with an abundance of love, grace, compassion, and empathy.

You’d continue to shield them from the not-so-well intentioned few, and surround them with curious

but loving people who do

learn to celebrate differences, rather than eschew.

What if We Othered Your Child and You?

3 Comments


Meghan Raftery
Meghan Raftery
Jan 11, 2023

This is such an important and timely piece, in keeping with your style of graceful agitation, Melissa! I'm reminded of a recent ASCD article about Black boys' sneakers... these methods of self-expression are vital windows into who people are, how THEY want to be seen and what they value. The norm of assimilation can only be disrupted by seeing children (and adults) as fully-formed beings who communicate what they value and who they are through the choices they make. Reframing expression as an OPPORTUNITY to know could go a long way toward creating decolonized, inclusive and welcoming environments of belonging. I know one action I plan to take after reading this is expressing curiosity about students' style choices, asking some…

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LouAnne Metzger
LouAnne Metzger
Jan 10, 2023

This poem! Yes, we are part of God's intricately, beautifully intricate, woven tapestry. Thank you Melissa for helping me to understand "othering," expanding my world of empathy for others, and to show me ways to build a more loving, compassionate, and inclusive community.

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Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith
Jan 10, 2023
Replying to

You're welcome LouAnne. I appreciate your willingness to express your learning and unlearning.

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