A Texas Teenager Was Almost Unable to Graduate With Her Class Because of Her Braids

Danielle Jackson
Close up portrait of young black female wearing pale pink blouse, flicking braided hair to side
Close up portrait of young black female wearing pale pink blouse, flicking braided hair to side

Black people are fighting for a lot right now, and as we continue to confront antiracist policies in the US, hair discrimination is an issue that, unfortunately, persists. A Texas high school senior, for example, went viral earlier this week after her school refused to let her graduate with her class unless she removed her braids.

According to Essence, Kienjanae "KJ" Hooper is a student and National Honor Society member at Gladewater High School, and she recently treated herself to some braids for her senior photos. The braids reportedly took ten hours to complete and they look just like any other braided hairstyle, but her principal called Hooper and her mother, Kieana, on Monday to let her know that they violate the school's dress code and are essentially "a distraction."

"Really, the whole thing is really dumb to me, to be honest," Hooper told the publication. "Why does it matter about my hair that I can't walk across the stage? I'm not going to say, 'Oh, she's racist,' but people have been calling her racist. Even before this whole hair thing people were saying that [about her]."

Hooper's braids feature burgundy extensions, which apparently violates a portion of Gladewater's dress code policy that states that "hair coloring shall resemble a natural color." Because of COVID-19, Hooper and her classmates had been out of school for a few months, which lead her to try out the special hair color ahead of the ceremony.

"We hadn't been in school for months, so I dyed my hair red; but it's not bright red it's more like burgundy," she said. "They're saying it's not okay because it's not a 'natural' color, but I've seen some kids with blue and yellow hair and I haven't heard anything about their parents getting calls. Since we've been out of school, a lot of kids have been dying their hair and getting tattoos and piercings."

The incident echoes that of DeAndre Arnold, another teenager whose story went viral earlier this year after a change in his Texas high school's dress code forced him to have to choose between cutting off his dreadlocks - which he'd been growing since he was in the seventh grade - or not walking with his classmates. Even though his story caught the attention of celebrities like Gabrielle Union and director Matthew A. Cherry, his school doubled down on its policy change, forcing Arnold to eventually transfer.

Fortunately for Hooper, the issue has been resolved, and according to a comment on her mother's Facebook page, she will be able to participate in the school's graduation ceremony on Friday evening. While we're glad that her story has a happy ending, this is just another reminder of how unfair that people - especially teenagers - are still being forced to consider altering their physical appearance as an incentive to attend and graduate high school as well as getting jobs. Though lawmakers continue to create policies against these issues, Hooper's story only shows that there's a lot more work to be done.

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