More than 100 students at a California high school staged a peaceful walkout last week in protest of the district’s latest ban on durags, an emblematic staple in African-American hair care.
As reported by the Pasadena Star-News, students at John Muir High School claim the ban is in place because administrators believe the head coverings are affiliated with gang culture. School leaders said that isn’t the case, however.
“The administration’s feeling is that, once again, durags are not to be worn at school,” Principal Lawton Gray told the newspaper. “It doesn’t have to do with gang affiliation. It has to do with the values we have for how we present ourselves at school.”
Gray, who attended John Muir High, acknowledged wearing wave caps as a teen but said there’s a time and place to wear them — and that’s when you’re asleep.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, students pushed back against the controversial policy by walking out of class just after 9:30 a.m. as part of a protest organized by the school’s Black Student Union. The protesting students and officials with the district’s administration have failed to find middle ground on the issue.
The 100 some-odd students walked around chanting “I am not dangerous” and performed “wave checks,” where they would gather around one another and compliment each other’s their impressive wave pattern.
“The main reason we protest today is because we’re trying to stop the criminalization of black men on campus,” graduating senior and BSU member Reggie Myles told the Star-News, saying he and other students see the head coverings as a form of self-expression, and even likened them to hijabs or turbans.
“In the now, you have people embracing their culture within their natural hair,” Myles added. “In the past, men used to perm their hair and now you have Black men wearing short hair with waves.”
The Pasadena Unified School District‘s dress policy explicitly states that “hats, caps and other head coverings shall not be worn indoors.” However, a spokeswoman for the district said the rules allow for each school’s administration to implement the policy as they please.
The district-level policy against gang-affiliated apparel also stipulates that schools may ban clothing “that reasonably could be determined to threaten the health and safety of the school environment if it were worn or displayed on a school campus,” but stops short of prohibiting specific articles of clothing.
The spokeswoman said it’s unclear how long the durag ban has been in place at John Muir and if other schools in the district have also banned the popular head coverings.
“They’re trying to take away who we are — our culture,” student Felicia Davis said. “It is them trying to cleanse our ethnic beauty.”
Michelle Bailey of the Pasadena School Board supports the ban, saying it is necessary to prepare students for the corporate world.
“The conversation has to go deeper,” Bailey told Pasadena Now. “When I think about being at school I think about preparing for higher education. When you look at pictures of people who are successful in their business, they’re not wearing durags.”
Students who participated in Wednesday’s protest aren’t expected to face any disciplinary action, but were marked absent from class. Gray said there will be ongoing dialogue with students regarding the policy.
Watch more in the videos below.
Right now: Pasadena’s John Muir High School students walking out over durag ban pic.twitter.com/olmFonp3rr
— Chris Lindahl (@cmlindahl) February 20, 2019
— Sarah Reingewirtz (@sarahimages) February 20, 2019