This Teacher’s Insensitive Note About Her Black Student’s Hair Will Enrage You

Tionna Norris is a self-identified “unapologetic black mom.” A stands-up-for-her-kids-no-matter-what kind of mom. And this week, she let the Internet know it.

On October 10, Norris posted an image to Facebook of her daughter Amia, next to a note she’d recently been sent home from school with. The typed up letter was signed by her daughter’s teacher, Carol. And what it said absolutely shocked her:

Dear Tionna, 

I understand the necessary of coconut oil on Amia’s hair, but please do not use as much. The children were complaining that her hair “stinks.” If you have to apply this daily – please do so lightly, so the kid’s don’t tease her. 

Thank you for your understanding

Sincerely Carol

Needless to say, the note left Norris beside herself.

Her response? She decided to post the letter to Facebook for the world to see, along with the following caption:

“*applies the same amount of coconut oil* y’all gone feel that black girl magic. Sincerely, unapologetically black mom. P.s. Coconut oil has no stinky smell.”

(Take that, Carol.)

I have four African American children myself, so I more than empathize with Norris’ outrage. First, the teacher’s note was marginalizing. She was singling out a little black girl who was wearing product in her hair that is very common in the black community. And as Norris said, coconut oil doesn’t have a “stinky smell.” In fact, many of us who use coconut oil on our children’s hair and skin like the product because it’s essentially scentless. The teacher may claim that she understands why the oil is used, but the truth is, most of the note clearly indicates that she really just doesn’t get it.

Here’s the other problem I have with the note: It’s a clear case of victim blaming. Instead of taking the children aside who are teasing Amia and telling them why their actions are cruel and inappropriate, the teacher asks that Amia’s hair routine be changed. In essence, Carol is siding with the bullies, further marginalizing Amia while attempting to comfort others who she says are feeling “uncomfortable.”

But lastly, the real kicker comes in the last sentence, where the teacher requests that Norris use less oil in Amia’s hair. Nothing is more infuriating to a mother than someone else stepping in to tell her how to parent. The letter had nothing to do with Amia’s safety or well-being; in fact, it accomplished just the opposite: shaming a little girl for being herself — a black girl wearing a natural hairstyle to school.

A quick scroll through Norris’ public Facebook page reveals countless other photos of her little girl with various natural hairstyles, including braids, twists, and free hair. In fact, just a few days before the controversial note was sent home, Norris posted this uplifting post praising her daughter’s uniqueness:

“I have a beautiful black princess that I’m raising to be a queen. I love those big brown eyes, her peanut butter skin, her curly strands of hair and the way her skin glows naturally when it hits the light. And she will too!!! She is the roots of this world and everything on it is hers and she will know it!!!! Amia Elizabeth Cowan”

When I read those words, they resonated with me deeply. In a world that still doesn’t value people of color as much as those with lighter skin, mothers of black children have to fight daily to build up our children to combat the messages of racism — whether they’re overt or micro-aggressions like this teacher’s note. We have to teach our children that they are special, beautiful, wonderful, and important, even when others attempt to degrade them, dismiss them, and change them.

Children like Amia and my own four kids do not need to be conditioned to apologize for their blackness, and this includes wearing age-appropriate, natural hairstyles that protect hair while also highlighting its beauty and versatility. Instead, Amia should be able to attend school, confidently and carefree, doing only what kids are supposed to be doing at school: learning in a safe, healthy, and positive environment.

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