Imagine if how you wore your hair determined whether or not you could walk with your classmates at your graduation. That as a high-school student — in 2020, nonetheless — you'd be forced to face the impossible decision of either getting rid of a hairstyle you've felt proud of for years or not being able to celebrate a milestone with your peers. That's exactly what's happening to DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, TX, who's spent the last week speaking out about a recent change in his school's dress code policy.
Arnold has dreadlocks that he wears as a way to embrace his family's Trinidadian culture, and
according to NBC News, he's been growing them out since he was in the seventh grade. The Barbers Hill Independent School District has a strict dress code that allows dreadlocks, though it prohibits male students from wearing their hair past their eyebrows or earlobes. Throughout high school, the school has allowed Arnold to wear his shoulder-length hair pulled back into a ponytail, but he was recently given an in-school suspension and told he'd be unable to walk in his upcoming graduation ceremony if he didn't cut his hair.
Since then, the 18-year-old and his mother, Sandy Arnold, have pushed back against the policy, but despite the backlash the school has gotten from people online, including celebrities like Gabrielle Union and NFL player DeAndre Hopkins, Barbers Hill has doubled down on its decision to change the dress code. Arnold has since withdrawn from school.
The outcome of this story is disappointing, though it isn't surprising. Arnold joins a chorus of others — like Louisiana's Faith Fennidy — who have been punished in recent years by schools and employers for choosing to wear their hair in braided or locked hairstyles. It's maddening to know that one can still be forced into altering their physical appearance when it's abundantly clear that how a person chooses to wear their hair has nothing to do with their ability to learn or do their jobs. And unfortunately, because this is still happening, a teenager three months shy of his graduation will no longer have the opportunity to share his special moment with the peers he spent at least four years with.
Fortunately, more lawmakers in the last year have taken action to ensure that people like Arnold are protected against policies like this. In early 2019, New York City imposed a ban against practices that discriminate people "based on their hair or hairstyle at work, school, or in public spaces," threatening anyone who doesn't follow the guidelines with a $250,000 fine. California followed in July when it became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair. That said, Arnold's situation is a prime example that there's way more work to be done.