Here’s An Idea: Let’s Celebrate Black Hairstyles On Black People, Too

Football player Travis Kelce and Texas student Darryl George both sport historically Black hairstyles -- but only one of them is getting penalized for it.
Football player Travis Kelce and Texas student Darryl George both sport historically Black hairstyles -- but only one of them is getting penalized for it.

Football player Travis Kelce and Texas student Darryl George both sport historically Black hairstyles -- but only one of them is getting penalized for it.

Thisweek,magazines and blogs have been hammering The New York Times for a recent article that discussed the popularity of NFL player Travis Kelce’s haircut without once acknowledging it as a Black hairstyle. You can imagine why the POC masses are pissed ― not at the Kansas City Chiefs tight end himself, but more so at the “mainstream media,” as we love to say ― about the implication that somehow this white guy invented the taper fade.

As I sit here with my own bald fade, a haircut I’ve been getting since 1990, I can emphatically state that the fade is a style and grooming staple of the Black community. However, this situation speaks volumes about a larger issue that continues to plague Black hair and culture, capitalism, and the criminalizing of the originators of the style.

Shortly after the aforementioned backlash, Taylor Swift’s boo said that he definitely didn’t invent the fade haircut, and that he felt set up by the implication. He was also unamused that the Times’ article came out on the first day of Black History Month. We all were, Travis.

While I appreciate Kelce’s clarification, I can’t help but think about the amount of press this has garnered while a Black teen named Darryl George continues to be persecuted for wearing his hair in locs, another historically Black hairstyle.

For those unfamiliar with the case, George is a 18-year-old student in Texas who is currently suspended from school because his locs,which he wears pulled back so they remain above his neck, “violate” a policy about how long a male student’s hair can be. The district’s dress code prohibits students’ hair extending “below the eyebrows or below the earlobes.” 

For Black folks, this is nothing new — it’s just another way to police our heritage and culture, a tradition as old as both apple pie and slavery.

George has reportedly been on in-school suspension since Aug. 31. He has filed a lawsuit claiming that his school’s policy is in violation of the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination. Texas is one of 24 states across the U.S. to pass a version of the CROWN Act,” Houston Public Media notes. George’s trial date is set for Feb. 22. (After the initial publication of this article, a spokesperson for the district denied that there was a racial element to George’s discipline, and said no other students were in violation of the dress code.) 

From the outside, George appears to be the most recent subject of a long history of hair discrimination against Black Americans. Just a few years ago, the International Swimming Federation banned from the Olympics certain swim caps that Black swimmers were using to protect their hair from the water. Although that decision was reversed a year later, it illustrates how racial bias can show up in quite petty ways.

These two events — Kelce being celebrated for sporting a fade, while George is getting penalized for his locs — feel pretty ironic running alongside each other. I can’t help but ask: Do y’all only celebrate Black hairstyles when they’re on white people’s heads?

It’s painful to recall Kim Kardashian wearing box braids and calling them “Bo Derek braids,” which totally disregards the history of the style and its originators. Black Americans continue to get cosplayed for profit while our struggles are often ignored. This isn’t intended as a tirade against the Times — they’ve been covering George’s case, too — but an important reminder to everyone with a platform to give credit to Black Americans where it’s due. It’s really not that complicated.

The fact that the CROWN Act has only been adopted in 24 states so far says much about how racism and anti-Blackness permeate every system in this country. For us, freedom of expression comes with a set of racist respectability politics that reinforce the notion that whiteness is the standard. And it’s not something we can just live with — this type of discrimination can rob us of our livelihoods.

If anything good can come from these two events colliding, it’s that it serves as a reminder to show support for Darryl George and everyone else being vilified for their harmless hairstyles. Let’s make this a bigger conversation. The court of public opinion remains one of the strongest ways to fight against the criminality that comes with being Black.

And really, crediting a white person for a Black cultural style is, to quote Lil Kim, “played like a high top fade.”

A previous version of this story said it had “been reported” that white male students in George’s district had long hair in violation of the dress code. In fact, this was a claim from an attorney that the school district disputes.