Farouk James is a nine-year-old model with a very striking feature — his long brown hair. His mother, Bonnie Miller, helped him attain over 269 thousand followers on Instagram. She explains that the decision to grow his hair was “cultural” at first. His father’s Ghanian family encouraged him to keep his hair long until he was three. However, Farouk became attached to his “unique and beautiful” hair. His hair never presented a problem — until Miller began looking up secondary schools for him. Apparently, many schools prohibit boys from having long hair, including the family’s first choice, Fulham Boys School in West London.
Boy is Rejected From School Because of His Hair
For instance, the school’s policy reads as follows. “Hairstyles should be tidy and of a conventional nature, no extreme haircuts including sculpting, shaving, dreadlocks, or braiding are allowed. The maximum hair length is above the collar and the minimum hair length is a number 2 cut… Parents are strongly advised to seek advice on the acceptability of hairstyles that may be considered ‘different’ before allowing their son to adopt such a style. The school reserves the right to insist on re-styling if it considers the style inappropriate.” 
Miller speaks out against these policies, regarding them as sexist against boys and discriminatory against children of color.
“It’s a racial issue,” Miller told Good Morning America. “We all know what kind of boys would have dreadlocks and braids. Generally, it’s black boys or mixed boys. We’re not talking about Caucasian children here… it’s very unlikely.” 
So she launched a petition to the House of Parliament asking the government to stop schools from enforcing such restrictions. In the petition, she writes, “I believe it is teaching our children sexism from a very young age. When you teach the young this unequal behavior is acceptable today, you prevent a more tolerant world for tomorrow,” the petition reads. “Would you agree that your daughters should be made to wear skirts to school if they are not comfortable in doing so? I think It would be unfair and can be compared to women having to wear heels in the workplace, in addition to them being paid less than men?”
Discrimination Against Afro-Textured Hair
This isn’t the first time Miller had to deal with schools giving her son a hard time. Her older son, who is now in his early 20s, was penalized for having hair too short. He, like Farouk, is mixed race.
“His hair was cut too short and he got in trouble three times and nearly excluded from school for having it too short, to the point where I actually went to the shoe shop and bought some boot polish,” she told CBS News. She had erroneously assumed that their policies would have changed after 10 years. 
“Most of the schools that have these hair policies are Christian schools — which is ironic because Jesus had long hair,” Miller said. “So that means Jesus wouldn’t get into those schools if he were around today.”
Additionally, she created a petition on change.org that now has almost 7,500 signatures. There she explains the situation, adding that Farouk’s current school is very accepting. They request that Farouk’s hair should be tied back during school for health and safety reasons, a request Miller finds reasonable. However, his future education is unclear. “I have tried to prepare and persuade him that one day for the sake of his education we might need to cut it all off. I thought he would come around, but as the secondary school application process will start in 2 years his passion for keeping his hair has even intensified and he is terrified.”
“This is not just about hair”
Unfortunately, Farouk isn’t the only child unfairly punished because of his hair. Clinton Stanley Jr. was stopped from entering his classroom on the first day of school because of his dreadlock. The school administrator stopped him by the entrance and explained that the school policy banned this hairstyle. The boy was upset and confused. He asked for dreadlocks when he was four years old so he could look more like his godfather.
It hardly needs explaining that a policy against dreadlocks specifically targets people of color. Unfortunately, these policies exist in many schools and workplaces, rejecting their natural texture and hairstyles, from dreadlocks to braids. Additionally, many Black women experience pressure to invest countless hours and dollars into making their hair look straight according to European standards. If they decide to wear their hair naturally or in braids, people can view this as a “political or aggressive statement”.
“This is not just about hair, it’s about the acknowledgment of personal rights, it’s about checking bias,” said California State Sen. Holly Mitchell. “Our hair has always been a source of either pride or embarrassment, a sense of power or a sense of unequalness.”
Examining Outdated Policies
Fortunately, many states are making strides in criminalizing policies that penalize different hairstyles. “As our country continues to diversify and we become more and more a country of people of color, I think our laws have to reflect that,” said Wisconsin State Rep. LaKeshia Myers.
There’s still a long way to go, but Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis has advice on how to re-evaluate school and work policies. “To the extent people have any dress codes or policies on grooming or professionalism, take a look at them and ask … ‘Are there ways in which these standards and codes affect black people more, affect women more, affect people who are non-binary more?’’’ 
- “’It’s a racial issue’: Mom slams ‘sexist’ school policy prohibiting boys from having long hair.” Yahoo. Elizabeth Di Filippo. January 28, 2020
- “Mom takes on schools that don’t approve of son’s long, natural hair.” GMA. Jacqueline Laurean Yates. January 28, 2020
- “Mother says son with long hair denied admission to 2 schools in U.K.” CBS. Caitlin O’Kate. January 28, 2020
- “Banning ethnic hairstyles ‘upholds this notion of white supremacy.’ States pass laws to stop natural hair discrimination.” USA Today. Nicquel Terry Ellis and Charisse Jones. October 14, 2019