Shemeka Michelle: Durham educators use the ‘unbe-weave-able’ CROWN Act to impose Clown Week on kids

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This week, my daughter’s school system is celebrating the CROWN Act, the failed federal legislation designed to stop hairstyle discrimination against black women in the workplace.

In a show of unbe-weave-able courage in December, Senate Republicans filibustered the House’s pandering legislation – Create Respect and an Open World for Natural Hair Act – into oblivion.

The hairbrained bill is gaining momentum at the state level, though. Twenty states have enacted some form of the CROWN Act. North Carolina, my home state, is debating the issue on the Senate floor this week. My daughter’s high school is promoting the legislation with daily events honoring locs, braids, twists, knots, and every other way black women seek identity, affirmation, and attention through hair processing.

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I’m black. I have natural hair. So do my three daughters, all of whom graduated from or attend Durham Public Schools.

I don’t understand the importance of CROWN Week. Lawmakers say black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hairstyles. That sounds exaggerated to me. But whatever.

I send my daughter to school to become more proficient in reading, writing, arithmetic, and a deeper understanding of history. I teach my daughters about hairstyles and fashion. I rely on Durham Public Schools to do the hard stuff.

It’s a real struggle for DPS. Maybe that’s why they’re focusing on hair.

There are 55 schools in the DPS district responsible for educating roughly 31,000 students. Demographically, black students are in the majority, hovering around 44% in 2017-2018. Hispanics make up another 30% of the student body. White students are 18% of the population.

In math, 59% of DPS students are below grade level. A staggering 70% of black students aren’t proficient in math (below grade level). If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve noticed the alarming number of young people who do not know the difference between your and you’re or there, their, and they’re. They avoid using capital letters or punctuation marks. No surprise: 58% of DPS students score below grade level in reading. Of black students, 66% aren’t proficient. At DPS, black students who take Math 1, a subject taken by my daughters in middle school, 82% score below grade level.

DPS schools are a hot mess. Of the 55 schools in DPS, 24 have Ds on their North Carolina academic report cards, while only three boast As.

But these same kids will be proud of their hair this week.

According to an email I received Monday night, this week was created “to elevate and celebrate the national CROWN Act, ensuring protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles in schools and the workplace. DPS CROWN Week focuses on providing opportunities for learning and engagement, centering the role and impact of the CROWN Act in the Durham community while illuminating, affirming, and amplifying the diversity of voices and experiences in our community.”

In honor of CROWN Act Week, DPS incorporated Spirit Week. Each day is designated to celebrate a different style or aspect of natural hair. Students are encouraged to wear big hair, colored crowns, braids, and/or locs proudly. Last but not least, on Thursday, March 2, DPS will host an event titled “Off the Top: Kings and Their CROWNs.” The goal of this discussion event, approved by a female-led school board, is to redefine masculinity and discuss the personal/cultural impact of hairstyle choices for men.

A bunch of women who can’t teach that two plus two equal four are going to redefine masculinity for young men. That’s what’s being prioritized and taught within our failing schools. Women are teaching masculinity through hairstyles. What’s next? Will they teach financial responsibility through gold chains and 22-inch car rims?

DPS needs to focus on the overwhelming number of students who are struggling academically. The central focus of education should be academics.

My ex-husband and I are more than capable of instilling confidence in our daughters’ hairstyles. We can prep them on how to present themselves in a work setting. We can do our jobs.

Can DPS educators do theirs? What will it profit a child to love their unbe-weave-able hair if 1) they can’t spell the name of the horse that provided the weave? 2) they’re not academically qualified to land a job that will allow them to pay the hair shop owner for the weave? 3) they can’t read the ingredients on the hair-care products needed to maintain their braids, locs, and fancy coloring?

There’s a theory pushed in the black community that we’re better off when people in positions of power look like us. In 2022, 71% of schools in DPS were led by black principals. DPS has a black superintendent, and females compose 66% of DPS school principals.

White educators wasting valuable school time teaching black kids to love cornrows would be called “white supremacists.” We call black educators teaching this foolishness “leaders.” Leaders taking our kids straight to hell, straight to the unemployment line, or straight to a prison cell.

It’s CLOWN Week in Durham.

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