oblivious to racial overtones

I am pained by this story.  I remember being this little girl.  I remember being singled out at times, usually not having anything to do with my hair unless it was mandatory school-wide lice check day.  No one wanted to deal with me then.  And that was fine with me.  But it wasn’t really.  I can only imagine the consequences this incident will have for this little girl.  Her parents really have their work cut out for them now.  I hope they sue and win big!  The damage is done.  Let’s hope it can be undone.  Oh, and I’d like to send the Mudede family a copy of Teri LaFlesh’s Curly Like Me.  All you need is conditioner people.  All you need is conditioner…

Biracial Girl Removed From Classroom Because Of Her Hair

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux


This story is an example of the sad fact that within schools, sensitivity training can only go so far – sometimes, there are unpredictable situations where teachers just have to intuitively react, and often they’re not prepared to do so.  And often, these issues are much larger than they appear on the surface.  Such is the case with the 8-year-old biracial student who was removed from her advanced-placement class because the teacher claimed that she was allergic to the girl’s hair moisturizer.  The teacher first put the girl in the hallway, and then moved her to a different classroom where she found herself in a lower-level class with predominately African-American students.

This behavior seems bizarre enough – but add the fact that the girl was the only student of color  in her school’s accelerated program, and the concerns of her angry parents, who may now sue the school (the NAACP, along with the Department of Education, have already filed a complaint), seem justified.  The girl’s father, Charles Mudede, is black, and says that he had talked to his daughter about resisting pressures to straighten her hair so that she would look more like her white classmates.  The product that so irritated the teacher was a compromise, Mudede said, “something light that kept her hair in its natural state.”

The girl’s parents have a host of questions to which there seem to be no adequate answers: “Why did the teacher think the problem was his daughter’s hair? Why hadn’t the school called the parents? What investigation was being done to pinpoint the source of the problem? And, finally, why did the school seem oblivious to the racial overtones of a white teacher singling out her only black student?”

Mudede says that the situation escalated because no one at the school seemed prepared to answer these basic questions.  He wrote on his blog,

“When we, her parents, were later informed of this incident, we also learned that once my daughter was removed from the class, the teacher felt much better. We were also told that the teacher had experienced something like a fainting spell because of our daughter’s hair. Feeling the seriousness of this situation, we decided not to send our daughter to school until the teacher had medical proof that our daughter’s hair or something in her hair was to blame for the nausea. (The last thing you want to happen to your daughter is for a teacher to faint or vomit at the mere sight of her.)

Days passed and the school took no action. This unresponsiveness left us with no other choice than to turn to a lawyer. The whole thing is a mess. Getting entangled in a racial dilemma is something most black parents do not want for their children. It’s just not worth the trouble. Then again, like I said, if not checked and confronted, the incident will have permanent consequences for my child.”

And although the school is now making limited comments because of the threat of a lawsuit, it definitely seems as though this situation was horrifically mismanaged; without communicating privately with the student and involving the parents, of course this would turn into a humiliating ordeal for a little girl who clearly was already suffering from self-esteem issues.  If the teacher had allergies, that’s something that she couldn’t help.  But to target the student in such a dismissive embarrassing way shows a level of insensitivity that no teacher should have.

3 thoughts on “oblivious to racial overtones

  1. While I agree with your take on the situation generally, may I correct a couple of small errors that have crept into the story along the way? The little girl is not the only African American in the program, nor in her grade, but rather the only one in that particular third-grade class. Also, the classroom change was meant as a very temporary arrangement, not a permanent demotion as some have concluded. The teacher of the class next door (same grade but not a gifted-program class) offered to take the student for the rest of the day. (The fact that that wasn’t immediately made clear to the parents is part of the problem.)

    The teacher has a long history of allergies and chemical sensitivities, which I’m told has been made worse by a recent remodeling project in her home, and I think she probably did have an overwhelming reaction to *something* in her environment. I don’t know how she pinned it on the hair lotion, however; that seems to me to be a very weak link. In any case, there is no question whatever that the communication was seriously mishandled.

  2. First, what a shameful way for a teacher to conduct a classroom. If some unknown agent was causing her to have an allergic reaction she should have removed HERSELF from the classroom. I shared this story with several friends — many of whom teach — and every single person poo poo’d this teacher’s actions.

    Second, unrelated to the story. Kind of. I was cruising an Ebony while getting my hair done yest and came across an interview of Paula Patton that made me think of your blog! I think she’s beautiful and have an equal love for her husband Robin Thicke. Part of the article covered PP’s problems with racial identity in high school. She’s mixed, but as a teen felt so compelled to prove her Blackness that she even went to lengths to hide her relationship with Robin. At first, this made me question her character, but in reflection I think it was brave of her to make this confession this in such a public forum.


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