The Vanessa VanDyke Story: Where is the Love?

Vanessa VanDyke (photo courtesy of Local 6 News)
Last week, 12-year old Vanessa VanDyke from Florida was told by the Faith Christian Academy school she could face expulsion because of her natural hairstyle. Several reports state that VanDyke, who is African-American, was first given the ultimatum of cutting her hair or leaving the school. This was done after making the school officials aware that she had been teased by other students because of her afro hairstyle.  The Faith Christian Academy's Student Handbook says, "Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction." Days later, the school made the decision to allow VanDyke to stay if she restyled her hair, instead of cutting it. This story left me asking, "Where is the Love?"

There are several things wrong with this picture of a school threatening to expel a child who is wearing their natural hair. The first problem is the child was already allegedly teased by other children. Instead of diffusing the situation, the school directs VanDyke and her parents to the student handbook. In my opinion, this is suggesting that the children are right to tease the young lady because her hair does not fit the school's guidelines.What message are you sending to the children? Thankfully, Vanessa VanDyke stated that she likes her 'puffy' hair because it makes her unique. She is okay with not fitting in.

When I first heard about this story and saw the pictures of VanDyke's hair, I thought maybe she could wear her hair in a ponytail or a bun. However, I was shocked when I read the specific instructions that were first  given to VanDyke and her parents. The Daily News reported that the Faith Christian Academy stated the 12-year old had to cut and shape her hair or face expulsion." Why does she have to cut her hair? I believe this idea sends a message that surpasses the idea of hair being a "distraction." It suggests that the little girl is wrong altogether because she is wearing her hair natural. WKMG reported that school administrators at Faith Christian Academy have now asked VanDyke to restyle her hair according to the school guidelines, instead of cutting it.

Vanessa VanDyke getting her hair done by her mom, Victoria Taylor (photo courtesy of WKMG)
 Moreover, I believe Vanessa VanDyke's story along with similar others is sad. In September, 7-year old Tiana Parker from Oklahoma, was sent home because her school did not believe her dreadlocks were presentable. It is ridiculous that these children are presented with the difficult situation of being rejected by their schools based upon strands that sprout from their scalp. Students should be focusing on learning instead of battling an institution. In the picture above, VanDyke is holding up her National Honor Society certificate proving that she is an excellent student. Part of parents' jobs are to teach their children to love themselves. Schools should continue to teach them the same message. Children do not need to be at a school where they are not celebrated.

The results of African-American children being rejected due to their looks can be taken into adulthood. As adults, they may wear their hear chemically straightened, wigs, or weaves. The idea mirrors the one of VanDyke's story. The only difference is it includes adults in the workplace, instead of children in school. Earlier this year, photographer, Endia Beal explored the topic of natural hair worn by people of color often being unacceptable in the corporate world. Beal photographed white women with Black natural hairstyles like cornrows and extensions. The exhibit, "Can I Touch it" presented its audience with an eye opening view of the pressures of  conforming by minority groups.

In closing, Vanessa VanDyke's story is one in which self love is only encouraged by the parents and not the school. The children who teased VanDyke may have received the message that it is okay to tease the young girl, because her hair did not fit the school's guidelines. The requirement to conform to the standards that hair needs to be straightened and/or unnatural can carry its effects into adulthood. The rejection felt by an individual may cause them to hide their hair using chemicals, wigs, and weaves. In the corporate workplace, natural hairstyles worn by African-Americans may be viewed as unacceptable. Although, the decision was changed by the school to let VanDyke "restyle" instead of cut her hair, the whole situation is ridiculous. I am sorry that children like Vanessa Vandyke experience these situations at such young ages, but I am happy that she stood up for her beliefs and made a difference. Job well done, Vanessa!

What do you think about the Vanessa VanDyke story?

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