Update: After being banned from his graduation for not cutting his locs, DeAndre Arnold attended the Oscars red carpet — and used his platform to spread an important message about natural hair discrimination.
This story was originally published January 24, 2020.
For many high-school seniors, the months leading up to graduation can be some of the most memorable moments of your life. Putting together your prom outfit, choosing a college or making post-grad plans, counting down to that last big summer vacation. But for DeAndre Arnold, a student at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, things are unfortunately looking a lot different.
DeAndre has been suspended from school since December — and is now being told he cannot attend his graduation ceremony — unless he cuts his locs. It's another harrowing example of natural hair discrimination that is sadly still prevalent in schools and workplaces across the nation in 2020.
According to DeAndre's parents, Sandy and David, their son has been growing his locs since the seventh grade — a decision that holds deep cultural significance in their family. "Deandre's hair is part of his heritage and his culture," DeAndre's mom, Sandy, told Isiah Carey of the Isiah Factor. "His dad is Trinidadian, this is who he is." DeAndre also shared in an interview with KPRC Click2Houston that men in his family have always grown locs, which is common in Caribbean countries, including Trinidad, where many people with Rastafarian beliefs regard them as sacred. "I really like that part of Trinidadian culture; I really embrace that," DeAndre said.
The school maintains that it does not have a rule against locs specifically, but rather the length of male students' hair, which is not allowed to extend past their eyebrows or ear lobes, according to the Barbers Hill ISD Student Handbook. "We allow dreadlocks and extensions," the school's superintendent Dr. Greg Poole told ABC. "We have a dress code on hair length that is uniformly applied to all students of all races. We have a legal right to that expectation."
However, as many thought leaders have pointed out, these rules can be fundamentally discriminatory — especially for young men like DeAndre. "The dress code is designed for white people and by white people and it’s damaging to Black bodies," Ashton Woods, Black Lives Matter activist, said to KHOU11 at the Barbers Hill school board meeting where friends, family, and community activists gathered with DeAndre to discuss the matter.
Despite pleading with school officials, and attempting to get in touch with the Barbers Hill superintendent, DeAndre's mother says that her family's only option is cutting DeAndre's hair — which she refuses. "How can I sit my son in a barber chair and say, 'Hey, in order for you to graduate I need to cut your hair?'" she said to Carey in the same Isiah Factor interview.
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DeAndre's story has sparked a major discussion on social media about the discriminatory and damaging policies enforced in schools and businesses that negatively impact Black people. Celebrities like NFL star DeAndre Hopkins and Gabrielle Union came to DeAndre's defense on Twitter, encouraging the high-school student to stand his ground. "Keep fighting," Union wrote. "They truly believe if you stay quiet, they've won."
It's also gotten the attention of Oscar-nominated director, Matthew A. Cherry, whose film Hair Love, a story about a Black father learning to style his daughter's hair, is nominated for best-animated picture in the 2020 Academy Awards. "The Crown Act needs to go nationwide," says Cherry, referring to the law authored by California Senator Holly J. Mitchell that makes it illegal to discriminate against Black people for wearing their natural hair in the workplace or at school.
Recently, the Crown Act has passed in New Jersey (one year after Andrew Johnson, a 16-year-old varsity wrestler, was forced to publicly cut off his locs), New York, and California. Rep. Mitchell, along with beauty brand Dove, has been advocating to bring the legislation to more states — but progress has been slow.
Rep. Mitchell, who also has locs, says that your hair should not define your abilities or professionalism in the workplace. "Wearing my hair in braids, twists, and locs should be my protected right to choose, and needs to be for all Black men and women," Rep Mitchell told Refinery29 in a previous interview. While the passing of the legislation marked a massive milestone for those states, it still puts into perspective that in 47 states, it's still technically legal to discriminate against someone based on their natural hair.
According to a representative of the Crown Act, more states are moving to pass the law. "Thirteen additional states are considering the Crown Act and have either pre-filed, filed, or formally stated an intent to introduce their own anti-hair discrimination bills," a source tells Refinery29. These states include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. "Cincinnati, Ohio and Montgomery County, Maryland have also passed the act in local and county municipalities," the representative told us. Texas, however, is noticeably missing from that list. You can help pass the Crown Act in your state by signing the Crown Coalition petition and contacting your local representatives.
While activists continue to make strides in ending discrimination against natural hair nationwide, DeAndre says he's not backing down from his school board. "I will not stop fighting until we reach a resolution with this," he told Carey in a recent interview for the Isiah Factor. "I want to walk across the stage... I feel like I've earned that."