It is great that 8-year-old Marian Scott’s story had a happy ending.
She is a precious little girl whose glamorous photoshoot was worthy of the national attention it has received since her story became public.
Marian wasn’t allowed to have her class picture taken at Paragon Charter Academy in Jackson, Mich., last month because she came to school with red extensions braided into her hair. Colorful hair violates the school’s dress code, which states that “hairstyles must be conservative” and that “hair color must be of natural tones.”
It is a ridiculous rule that stymies cultural expression and represses individuality. Schools should be in the business of encouraging young people to be themselves.
Consequences for individuality
Something as simple as a unique hairstyle can build confidence, and it poses no harm to anybody else. Shame on Paragon Academy for failing to see that.
Nevertheless, rules are rules. And the school had every right to stop Marian from participating in picture day. She violated written directive, and there were consequences for it. That’s how things are supposed to work.
At Paragon, like it or not, hair requirements are a prominent component of the school dress code. Hair is as much a part of the school uniform as burgundy polo shirts and khaki pants, and like clothing, students have no choice but to accept it.
The handbook states clearly that students must be in school uniform for fall pictures and any retakes. It further states that students not in school uniform will not be allowed to have their pictures taken.
Marian’s father said the family did not realize Marian’s hairstyle was against the rules. Not knowing that a rule exists is not a valid excuse.
Ignorance can’t be used to justify wearing red extensions any more than saying you didn’t know the speed limit gets you off the hook for speeding.
JERMAINE HORTON PHOTOGRAPHY/TNS
Marian Scott, 8, of Michigan, was told her red hair extensions were a violation of the school dress code and that she couldn’t participate in school photos. Professional photographer Jermaine Horton, of Naperville, volunteered to drive nine hours round-trip to Michigan to take her photo this month.
Accept your fault
Real life doesn’t work that way. And it shouldn’t in elementary school either.
Accepting responsibility is a difficult lesson for an 8-year-old. But it is a very important one. All around these children, adults are constantly demonstrating how to squeeze out of challenging situations by pretending to be naïve about the rules.
In these contentious political times, playing ignorant threatens to become an acceptable part of American culture.
We cannot allow this to happen. And we cannot allow our children to grow up thinking that it’s OK to bend the rules and then justify it by claiming they didn’t know they were bending them.
In this case, the school’s rules were laid out succinctly in a 62-page document, easily accessible online, along with other rules banning sweatpants, earrings on boys, makeup, lipstick, fake nails, shaved heads, mohawks, mullets, body piercings and tattoos, real or fake.
School, of course, is not a democracy, and children don’t always have a say in how laws affecting them are determined and administered. But parents do.
If Marian’s mom and dad believed that the hair rule was discriminatory toward their African American daughter, they should have stood up and said so. Then, they should have gone to work on forcing the school to change it.
Instead Marian’s parents took the easy way out, which is what most parents would have done to protect their child from further damage. Instead of leaving their daughter in a school that did not appreciate her cultural diversity, they choose to remove her and enroll her somewhere else.
No easy way out
Unfortunately, that won’t shield Marian from the myriad discrimination she will face in the future. And it doesn’t provide her with the tools she will need to stand tall and assert herself someday as an African American woman, strong, fearless and willing to knock down barriers that seek to paint her as less than that.
Marian’s father, Doug Scott, instead decided to use the “they let white kids break the rules” argument. I don’t doubt for a moment that there were two kids this year who took pictures with mohawks, and one had green in his hair, just as he said.
That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Rules are often broken to accommodate white children. It’s wrong and it’s unfair, and it’s a burden society has placed on the backs of every child of color in America.
Teaching our children
But Black people can’t worry about what white kids get away with. We have too much work on our hands trying to make sure that our own children, especially when the odds are stacked so high against them, learn what they need to know in order to grow up and become productive members of society.
For African American children, especially in the school setting, that means following the rules even if the white kid sitting next to them doesn’t have to.
And for parents, it means explaining to your children early on that their skin color doesn’t afford them the luxury of picking and choosing which rules to follow, whether it’s how to react when stopped by the police or selecting which parts of the dress code to follow.
The consequences are more severe, and the lasting impact often is more damaging. It would be wonderful to live in a society where Marian never had to know the truth, if she could just be a kid like every other kid.
Marian was lucky that a professional photographer from the Chicago area heard about her and decided to have her pose, red extensions and all, for stunning pictures that went viral on the internet. For her, this horrible experience had a storybook ending. But that horrible rule about colored hair is still on the books.
Dahleen Glanton writes for the Chicago Tribune.