Last year for Black History Month, Georgia art teacher Kymm Daniels celebrated by creating a crafty homage to black hair on the doors to her classroom. When her students walked in, she recounts, they asked her: "'Miss Daniels, who are they?' I was like, ‘They are you, or you, they could be anybody.’ It’s something that relates to them, and they just love it.”
Her students weren't the only ones to love it. Daniels posted pictures and a video of her creations on social media and they quickly went super viral. On Facebook, her video had over 3 million views and her overall post has 75K shares and counting.
But just as social media amplified Daniels' ebullient black hair love in 2018, it also amplified story upon story of black children being penalized for wearing their kinky hair natural or in protective styles. The abuse, policing, and inappropriate touching of black hair happens daily in schools across the country and has for a while. But in 2018 such stories threatened to break the internet for their frequency and for how widely they were shared.
Over 3 million people watched as a 6-year-old was asked to leave a private Christian school on his first day because his locs "violated the dress code. "And just a month ago, millions watched, horrified, the video of a high school wrestler who had to cut off his locs on the sidelines of a match or be forced to forfeit.
So here is my challenge to my fellow white teachers that make up 82% of the employed teachers in America’s schools. This year for Black History Month… please do not start February with (often times problematic) civil rights and slavery lesson plans.
Instead, start the month engaging every single student in your class, from pre-school through high school, in a celebration of Afro-textured hair. Books that celebrate kinky hair, hairstyles and care are a crucial piece of anti-racist education that is missing in most classrooms. For kids 8 and under, check out this fabulous booklist curated by The Conscious Kid: Don’t Touch My Hair! 13 Children’s Books Celebrating Black Hair by Black Authors. Borrow them from your local library of consider supporting black-owned bookstores like Mahogany Books.
Those of us who lovingly take care of kids with Afro-textured hair every day know the significant role it plays in their identity. The way adults talk about hair with a black child shapes their worldview. When you celebrate and respect their natural hair, you are teaching them how to love themselves.
Students in your classroom don’t need you to sport your Black Lives Matter shirt or design your bulletin board around MLK quotes. Those kids in your class need to see you seeing them and celebrating them as their full selves. For black kids, that includes seeing and honoring the hair on their heads. When teachers engage students with books celebrating Afro-textured hair, they are helping to counter pervasive anti-blackness in our institutions and affirming that black is beautiful, too.
Bethany Edwards is an elementary educator as well as a reading and literacy specialist. She blogs about education at Biracial Bookworms.