Yet Another School Hair Controversy

Our hair is unique. Our hair is beautiful. Our hair requires the use of products that give it moisture and nourishment. And yes, some of those products have fragrances that are remarkable. But it seems to me that a certain teacher at Seattle’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary School is overreacting in a troubling way right now, all because of an allergy to the fragrance of a fairly commonplace African American hair product.

Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Moisturizing Hair Lotion has NEVER had this much media attention, I promise you.

My first reaction to this whole story? That teacher was doing the most. OK, maybe you’re allergic to the scent of a child’s hair products, and in close quarters it bothers you. But there’s gotta be a better way to deal with the situation, than making an eight year old leave a classroom because her hair is “making you sick.”

According to the Seattle Times, the main bone of contention by the little girl’s father, Charles Mudede, is that the teacher and by extension the school, was lacking in cultural sensitivity.

“Mudede, who is black, said he has talked with his daughter about valuing the way she looks and about resisting pressures to straighten her hair with products in an effort to look more like her white classmates.

“I want her to know she’s beautiful,” he said.

The product she was wearing when she was removed from the class — Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Moisturizing Hair Lotion — was a compromise, he said, something light that kept her hair in its natural state.

“It was a very serious thing to our family,” he said, recalling incidents in his own youth that made him feel like an outsider because of his race.

“There is a great sense of embarrassment for us,” said Mudede, who seemed surprised the situation had reached the point where there was talk of a lawsuit, the very thing that would shut down discussion.

“How do you neutralize this exactly?” he asked. “It’s the last thing I wanted to happen. … But you get bloody angry. It’s infuriating.”"

It seems to me this whole controversy could have been avoided if only the teacher and the school had clearly communicated with the little girl in a private and non-embarrassing manner, and if they had also reached out immediately to the child’s parents. Because of the way they handled this, the school is getting some mighty unwelcome media attention, a lawsuit, and a complaint from the NAACP.

Sigh. Yet another school hair controversy. What are your thoughts on this one, bellas?

Edited at 3:34: – This post has been picked up by Jezebel!

Edited at 3:35 — the little girl’s father is a writer for The Stranger. He wrote a post about this, titled My Daughter, Her Hair, and the Seattle School District. Please read and share your comments with him!

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Comments

  1. This makes me sick and extremely sad. You have got to be kidding me! Oh my…

    Ever since I decided to go as natural as I could, I have never felt so liberated, free, and confident without feeling the pressures to conform to an ideal of beauty…

    I will love it if you keep us posted!

  2. Interesting…So, it took the teacher one whole year to notice that she was allergic to the moisturiser in this pupil’s hair?

    The blatant racism in America never fails to surprise me at all…just ridiculous. That teacher needs to be named and shamed, useless woman.

    Last time a teacher cut a child’s hair. Just scandalous behaviour.

    Why did these people even bother to take up teaching, I wonder.

    • I’m tempted to say “because they are bullies and the education system gives them an arena in which to bully helpless children”.

  3. suchalady1101 says:

    I think it’s important to reiterate that the issue is how the teacher handled this situation. As a professional she could have addressed the issue in a more constructive, less insulting manner. If this was handled properly, it wouldn’t be news. It sounds like this teacher needs a course on ethics, boundaries, and problem solving. That’d be more productive than a law suit.

  4. darn good thing that teacher wasn’t working during the jheri curl craze! lol
    But seriously, what a tacky thing to do to a child.

  5. this is TERRIBLE! why couldn’t the ADULT teacher find a better way to solve this problem?! it would have been so much easier for her to 1) not put herself so close to the child as to activate her “allergy” 2) speak to the principal & have the child’s parents called and 3) to just BEHAVE LIKE AN ADULT! she acted like a child in that she just rashly dealt with the child as if it was the child’s fault.
    i agree completely with suchalady above me.. the real issue is the way the teacher reacted and hopefully that remains the issue throughout the lawsuit/resolution of this.

  6. Yikes! Since I started growing my hair out, I’ve been living by this product!

    I’m a person with a number of allergies–one of them very serious–but I’ve got to say, you really have to ask which one was the adult in this situation!

  7. The teacher and the school handled it very badly; it’s fortunate the girl has good parents who will help her from permanently linking this incident with race and feeling inferior. I can imagine how I’d feel at that age.

    I have no experience with this product, but it has to be said that a lot of “black” hair products smell awful. It’s as if the manufacturers don’t care about their customers.

    “Remarkable” was not the right word.

  8. The irony of this having occurred at an elementary school called “Thurgood Marshall” just hit me.

    Also, elementary schools now have “advanced placement” classes.

    There’s only one black student in this advanced placement class?

    The more it changes….

  9. We’re all in agreement that the teacher gets a failing grade in manners. Poor kid!

    At the same time, we need to note that an increasing number of companies are adopting fragrance-free zones in order to combat allergic reactions.

    Like “Reader, June 7 6:28 am” mentioned, many hair care products – although I wouldn’t restrict this to AA-friendly brands – just plain ole stink.

    That, or their smells border on overly sweet and way too pungent.

    Mix that in with perfumes, other personal care product scents and body odour…you’ve got a palette confusing mix.

    All this to say that we, as consumers, should consider requesting that “fragrance-free” be the default option for hair care and personal care products.

  10. Yes, this was handled VERY badly. This is a CHILD. It’s not her fault her parents chose to use a funky-smelling product on her hair. You, as the ADULT, needed to take it up with the other ADULTS first…not stigmatize the only child of color in your class by sending her out of the room in the presence of her peers. I’d love to know what other parents have to say about this (if anything).

    And yes, a lot of products marketed to black folks smell bad TO ME. It’s ironic that some natural hair boards are recommending Care Free Curl curl activator for moisture these days…I don’t care if my hair goes up in flames, I CANNOT and WILL NOT use that stuff because I too am old enough to remember the Jheri curl era. I am retroactively allergic to that stuff. lol

  11. (Almost) off topic…

    Is the woman in the video @ 1:55 getting a big chop?

    Okay, back on topic…

    Sad. Just sad. They took the girl out of ALL her honors classes???? Permanently??? I was placed in AG (academically gifted) classes in the 4th grade, and I remember vividly how out of place I felt back then (and through HS, honestly). To have this added to such a situation is insulting and degrading.

  12. All I know is, they better not take it off the market. Or I’ma have to get REAL!

  13. A whole lot of things trigger allergic reactions with me, but when I read the ingredients list for this product the likely culprit is very obvious: this stuff contains peanut oil.

  14. Camille says:

    This is ridiculous. Why in the world did it come to the student being removed from class? If the teacher truly was allergic to the child’s hair product, it would have been easy enough to call or e-mail the parents, explain the problem, and the parents could have made the decision to either find another product or move the child themselves. Why would the school let a teacher make a decision about the child’s education over a hair product? And did no one at the Thurgood Marshall school say “hey, before you, the white teacher, remove the lone child of color from an advanced class, perhaps we should consider other options”? And I’d like to know what the other kids in class were told. A kid just isn’t removed from a class without classmates wondering what happened.

  15. LOL @ comment #12.
    The parents should consider using Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk or Hair Milk Lite. The scents are all natural and aren’t as harsh and works better than that Olive Oil stuff anyway!

    Are we really shocked at the ignorance of some Americans in this country in regard to natural hair. Really?

  16. I used Mizani’s Coconut Souffle in my daughter’s hair. Her teacher was allergic to the smell of coconut oil and asked us to stop using it (which we did). This teacher had a sensitivity to perfumes and various other scented products. The school notified parents at the beginning of the school year about the teacher’s sensitivity to perfumes. I wonder if the parents were told this at the beginning of the year. I couldn’t smell anything when using this product but since it affected her health, it was simple enough to switch to pure Olive Oil.

  17. designdiva says:

    That child has been sitting in her class for a YEAR and the teacher decides NOW that she’s “allergic” to the hair lotion? I used to use this on the regular and my hubby currently uses this product and I can barely smell it. Puhleese!

  18. designdiva says:

    @ Reader…the other ironic point u forgot to mention is the sister reporting it is a natural too. Loved her look!

  19. Ok, so is this why our babies can’t perform well, because poor education systems would rather focus on irritating hair products rather than educating our youth? This sickens me!!!!
    We must do better!

  20. Christine says:

    It’s really a shame that this whole thing had to happen. It’s as easy as a phone call to the principal and then the parents asking that they use some other product in the girl’s hair that would not bother her allergies. Easy!

    All it takes is a little common sense and understanding. The child is eight. She’s not exactly picking out her hair product, and certainly no one is picking out the product to invoke a problem.

    On the same hand, why must every thing be a law suit? I’m so so tired of it.

  21. Seriously? That just makes me angry. She could have handled that so much better. That woman just needs a slap round the face tbh.

  22. thanks for sharing this post. the hair thing is making me sick and ignorant professionals who lack cultural competency. if the teachers have allergies, there is a chain of command and should professional protocols for handling such.

    Aside: I liked the hair of the news reporter and hair stylist in the video.

    As far as allergies: I have them too and I wish that some of the companies would make an allergy free version.

  23. This teacher and school principal probably never considered that this little girl has parents who will properly defend her against ignorance. Why won’t people learn you can’t get away with this stupidity in this century?! The mother is still visibly shaken, and her dad is understandably angry. No one has the right to humiliate a child like this, and I just hope she takes away how her parents fought for her.

  24. I agree that this was handled poorly, but I have a honest question: what does this have to do with “our hair”? The lead in makes it seem like her hair biracial hair texture or ethnicity was under assault and I dont think we have any evidence that that is the case.

  25. Im not gonna sit here and say perfume allergies dont exist -they do . I still start sneezing when I smell Cha.nel #5. I actually had a teacher who was allergic to scents and he asked us at the beginning of the semester to not wear scented lotions or perfumes. I think that she just handled this wrong. My thing is how did she know for sure it was her hair oil ? It could have been a lot of other things , and the fact that the little girl was the only black girl in the class makes it seem suspicious

  26. Allergies to fragrance absolutely exist. I’m 25, and in 8th grade my Latino teach absolutely kicked a few girls out of the class because something in the victoria’s secret bottles caused him to have sneezing fits. I need to know why this wasn’t resolved after a day, why the teacher didn’t speak to the parents immediately and it took until the end of the school year to fix this.

  27. This whole thing is outrageous! There is no reason for the little girl to be out of school. The parents can easily switch to a different hair moisturizer. If the teacher is still ill, then the teacher can leave because it’s obviously not the little girl.

  28. ayomidejpw says:

    The whole situation was handled inappropriately. BUT what I want to know why is this getting more press than the lil girl in Milwaukee that had her plait cut off by a teacher because the girl kept playing with it. Where was the NCAA for that?

    • I think legally that one qualifies as assault, and the teacher didn’t even have an allergy to justify her behavior.
      On the other hand, the school seems to be handling it better than the school in Seattle did, they are disciplining the teacher. But someone should look about bringing charges. That was a FIRST grader!

  29. This is completely unacceptable. No teacher has the right to humiliate a child and hinder her education because of a simple fragrance allergy. Maybe its just my aggressive Scorpio tendencies, but if that were my child, the school doors would be locked until she got back into her class, and that teacher would be searching for a new (allergen free) school district.

  30. The teachers complaint is valid, but like you said the way it was handled was wrong. I also believe that this teach or any teacher should NEVER addressed an Elementry students regarding his/her personal hygeine but addressed this with his/her parent. Not much more to say it was handled poorly.

  31. Sorry I lied I wasn’t done…..Let’s talk about the fact that the ingredients in this product “Water – Aqua, Coconut Oil – Cocos Nucifera, Sorbitol, Trimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol , Petrolatum, Cyclomethicone, Peanut Oil – Arachi Hypogaea , Castor Oil – Ricinus Communis, Cetyl Esters, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Olive Oil – Olea Europaea, Stearic Acid, Triethanolamine, DMDM Hydantoin, Propylene Glycol, Methyl Paraben, Propyl Paraben, Carbomer , Cetearyl Alcohol , Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, PEG-25 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Fragrance – Parfum , Benzyl Alcohol , Benzyl Salicylate , Geraniol, Hexylcinnamicaldehyde, Lillial, D’Limonene, Linalool, Lyral, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, BHT , Blue No. 1 – CI 42090, Yellow No. 5 – CI 19140″ don’t match the statement the father made about keeping his childs hair “natural” some of those items listed are harsh chemicals, he may want to address that in additon to his complaints with the teacher. There are NATRUAL alternatives that are healthy for his child and not harsh on others noses.

    • We all, all races, put a lot of stuff on our skin and hair. It’s absurd to claim that using a cosmetic isn’t natural… I think we all know that he means he does not want to change the appearance or texture of the child’s hair, just keep it moist, healthy and groomed.

      • There are two more failures of logic in your statement: 1. Look that stuff up, a lot of it is natural, cocos nucifera is the Latin name for coconut, and peanut oil is natural. Just two examples.
        2. Natural things can also cause allergies, just look around you in rag-weed season.

  32. I once worked for an agency that provided counseling services etc for schools throughout Seattle and South Seattle. I am not surprised of this situation. (I could write a book) We were always battling stupid @!@@–What about common sense?!!
    It’s evident that the teacher did not have a parent/teacher relationship established. Because a simple phone call, email etc to discuss her allergies could have reviewed solutions instead of removing the child. Seattle School District is still phucked up!

  33. I used to use the organic root stimulater products religously until I realized after over a year of use that I am allergic to the product. It is possible people that the teacher was actually allergic. She could have handled the situation better perhaps but she shouldn’t have to be sick because of one childs hair product. Of course I have no clue how she is coming in contact unless she is hugging the child.

  34. Certified white boy here (obviously not a frequent visitor, linked from the original news story), so I’m a bit ignorant in two respects. What’s the deal with hair? I’m quite aware of the history of pressure to straighten one’s hair for both men and particularly women, but missing the impetus. Is it just the predominantly straight hair in advertising and culture or is there something deeper there? Growing up in Kansas I’ve heard plenty of ignorant racist crap from men, but never a complaint about hair…just curious.

    For what it’s worth ladies, keep that hair natural. I always have thought it looks more beautiful than straightened hair, which ends up looking just overworked and dull.

    Teacher seems a bit ignorant to the sensitivity of the matter; if your school is named after TM you’d kind’ve hope you’d be more in tune with culture.

  35. MRS. HENRY says:

    the situation is done right offensive and could have been handled better I think we all agree. Just as the teacher made her comments in front of everyone she should be made to apologize in front of everyone I have been transitioning to natural hair for only 7 months not to be on some pro blackness but because I wanted healthier hair I often straighten my hair because I like it and when I where it in a braid out it’s cause I like how it looks on me not to make statement I say this because I often get flack from my more natural unaltered hair friends I gently but firmly remind them I am just being me doing what works best for me on a stright day or a little more kinky day ME not conforming to anyone ideals but mine cause I can WOW now thats FREEDOM

  36. I use this product on my daughters hair daily whom is biracial and would have a seriuos fit if my child and I had been placed in such a situation. As you said, no one can help their allergic reactions, but this teacher was clearly not properly trained on how to handle such situations. this could leave a permanent scar on a young. We have got to do better as human race.Respect and consideration for people is a total lack in our world now.

  37. This teacher’s problem isn’t so much a lack of cultural sensitivity as a lack of any sensitivity whatsoever. That she failed to see the racial overtones suggests that’s she’s also socially clueless. How embarrassing for the child!

    There’s no telling what a person can turn out to be allergic to, and even pleasant smelling cosmetics can irritate a person. If only she’s said something, politely, I’m sure the parents would have been happy to switch products. Now there’s a lawsuit. They’ll probably switch products anyway, but this way it’s much more expensive, stressful and embarrassing. Way to go.

  38. I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for newbies. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] in the school year, a teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary (oh, the irony) decided that she was allergic a Black student’s hair products. The teacher also thought it would be a great idea to take [...]

  2. [...] This article got flagged up on Facebook: an African-American schoolgirl was kicked out of class by a white teacher in Seattle because her hair was “sickening” because of the hair product the girl used. It looks like some people are trying to make a race issue out of it when it seems to be more of a health issue (more: Afrobella): [...]

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