A Black high school student in North Carolina was forced to cut her hair during a softball game last month, after umpires said beads in her braids violated rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHS).
“It was humiliating,” Nicole Pyles told the Raleigh News & Observer. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.”
Rather than leave the game, Pyles decided to let teammates cut her hair. A video of someone asking the crowd if anyone had scissors was widely shared on social media.
In its uniform policy for softball, the NFSHS permits “flat items, no longer than two inches, used to control the hair, such as bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips”. The rules do not account for religious or ethnic considerations.
“Who else wears beads?” Pyles said. “Only black girls. People who have coarse hair.”
One umpire in the softball game was white and one was Black.
A Durham public schools investigation concluded the rule was “culturally biased”. The district said the rule should be changed to be more inclusive and said it supported Pyles.
The student’s father, Julius Pyles, told the News & Observer the investigation “should have happened when the incident took place, it shouldn’t have taken this long. This is an incident that should have been addressed immediately.”
According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Black school students are disproportionately disciplined across the US.
In Texas last year, two Black students with braids were suspended for having hair that went below the top of their shirt collars. The school district kept the policy in place.
Nine states – Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia – have made hair discrimination illegal in schools and workplaces.
In Congress, the Crown (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act passed the House in September. It awaits its fate in the Senate.