Teacher’s Note Complaining About Oil in a Student’s Hair Sparks Outrage

Jihan Forbes
Associate Editor
One teacher had a problem with how much a black child's mother was moisturizing her hair. (Photo: Getty Images)
One teacher had a problem with how much a black child’s mother was moisturizing her hair. (Photo: Getty Images)

It seems we can’t go too long without hearing another story of someone complaining about a black child’s hair. Whether it’s in an Afro, braided, or loc’d, there seems to sometimes be an issue if it isn’t styled or cared for in a way that does not conform to Eurocentric ideals of what hair looks like and how it should be treated. And the same issue arose again on Monday when Tionna Norris, a Chicago parent, shared on Facebook that she got a note from her daughter Amia’s teacher, asking her to stop using as much coconut oil in her daughter’s hair. “I understand the necessary of coconut oil on Amia’s hair, but please do not use as much. The children were complaining that her hair “stinks.” If you have to apply this daily — please do so lightly, so the kids don’t tease her. Thank you for understanding.”

Norris’s daughter has kinky-curly hair, which needs lots of moisture to be healthy. If hair with that particular texture is not moisturized regularly, it can cause breakage.

Norris posted an image of the letter side-by-side with a snap of her daughter’s (admittedly fresh-looking) hairstyle, which included a side braid and a crown of seriously gorgeous curls. And her caption for the photo confirmed that she had no intention of taking the teacher’s advice. “*applies the same amount of coconut oil* y’all gone feel that black girl magic. Sincerely, unapologetically black mom. P.s. Coconut oil has no stinky smell.”

Norris says her child is the only black student her class at the Raggedy Anne Learning Center, which adds another layer to the issue. “This is why I make it a point to keep her hair natural and tell her yes she’s different and it’s magical,” she wrote on Facebook. The photo, which has been shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook, has a few people wondering why Norris and her daughter should make any changes to what they’re doing, when the teacher should instead be telling kids not to bully others. “Why is the ill manner of another child your responsibility? It’s absurd,” one commenter said. “I hope the teacher wrote the other kids parents about being bullies since she’s so damn concerned,” another echoed. Others pointed out the fact that coconut oil in general doesn’t have that strong a scent.

Norris wrote that she and her fiancé went for a sit-down with the school’s director to talk about the issue. They apparently learned that her daughter wasn’t getting bullied for her hair in the first place. “In the conversation she explained the letter was never supposed to be offensive in any way shape or form, no one ever said anything to my daughter, and Amia’s teacher is just a complainer (she’s Russian). We had an adult conversation, and my daughter has many friends, so no I will not be removing her from the school. The teacher is also being disciplined,” she wrote in an update to Facebook.

On Wednesday, Norris posted again, reflecting on how the situation made her feel, saying that she isn’t of the opinion that the teacher meant no harm from the letter, considering she was the only one who had a problem with the child’s hair. “It was just something the teacher was not used to and thought it was heavy,” she wrote. “Do I still believe the teacher didn’t have ill intentions? Not for a second because the way she tried to talk to me about how she thought my daughter smelled (… she is the only person who felt that way) was absolutely and totally unacceptable, but Amia is deftly my child, her clap back will always be REAL!”

Once again, a lack of understanding or tolerance for black hair rears its ugly head, and it is unfortunate that a child was made to feel different and othered in the process. Fortunately, little Amia has parents teaching her that no matter what her teacher says, there is nothing wrong with the way her hair grows out of her head — or the way she takes care of it.

Tionna Norris did not respond to a request for a comment as of press time. We called the Raggedy Ann Learning Center and were told, simply, “No comment.”

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