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Read a Post for 21st Century Black Codes in K-12 School Policies Related to Black Hair
 
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Unsound argument; questionable scholarship

Posted By: Jennifer Jones on September 30, 2017
 
I have to question this commentary’s scholarship and the soundness of its argument.

The first paragraph asserts that the practice of hair straightening among African American women has been driven by economic considerations. The authors write, “The idea behind this investment [in hair straightening products] was to ensure economic vitality in a mainstream world that rejects the idea that natural Black hair is professional. Therefore, the politics, health, and ability to advance economically has always been tied to whether African American Women straighten their hair.” Arguments in which the conclusion is essentially a restatement of the premise are known as circular and are shunned in respectable scholarship. It is unlikely, moreover that the assertion is true. It’s easy enough to point to wealthy African American women who straighten their hair and do not need to do so in order to earn a living. Nor does the claim account for the homemakers, students and other African Americans who are not in the workforce and yet still choose to straighten their hair.

Let’s take a look at paragraph five which begins, “For the past decade, the majority of African American women have been focusing on their health as well as the health of their children.” Readers who are skeptical of such vague and sweeping generalizations may be forgiven for expecting to see a source cited. In this case, however, they will be disappointed to see that the only parenthetical citation in the paragraph is for a work that was published in 2003, four years prior to the beginning of the “past decade.”

What bothers me about the commentary’s argument is this. The authors’ decision to use “21st Century Black Codes” in their title and their reference to, “…hegemonic policies threatening the civil liberties of Black and brown children” clearly posits an oppressor. Because they never explicitly identify the oppressor(s), I assume that they are referring either to the white majority or some sub section thereof. (I think this is a reasonable assumption because the original Black Codes were indeed a series of laws and statutes passed by white politicians in the reconstruction era South, expressly intended to restrict the freedoms and rights of African Americans.) The authors thus imply that school dress or appearance codes across the United States were written by white people. This seems particularly unlikely in school districts which are staffed predominantly by African American administrators. I picked at random one reference from the authors’ list. It concerns a 2016 situation at a Durham, NC magnet school at which African American students were prohibited from wearing head wraps because the practice was determined to violate the school’s ban on hats. I have no opinion on the decision but I did see a photograph of the school’s principal and she looks African American to me.

Schools around the world -including those in African countries- regulate their students’ appearance. This extends to clothing, jewelry, tattoos, and hair color and style. The virtue of these policies should be open for debate but the authors’ fail to make the case that American school appearance codes are intended to oppress Black and brown students.
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 Unsound argument; questionable scholarship by Jennifer Jones on September 30, 2017
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