Good Hair 

Petitioner pushes inclusivity in SCS cosmetology program.

A former Shelby County Schools (SCS) student started a petition last month asking that ethnic hair be a part of the elective cosmetology courses at SCS high schools.

Jazmyne Wright, a freshman at the University of Memphis studying political science and African-American studies, started the petition on change.org to address the lack of inclusion of lessons on natural, African-American hair in the courses.

"I think ethnic hair should be just as much a default in cosmetology as any other hair texture or origin," the petition reads in part. "Black students should be able to learn about their community's hair and even how to take care of their own hair. The cosmetology course of Shelby County Schools is not diverse or inclusive of ethnic hair."

click to enlarge “Black students should be able to learn about their community’s hair.” - CHANGE.ORG/JAZMYNE WRIGHT
  • Change.org/Jazmyne Wright
  • “Black students should be able to learn about their community’s hair.”

As a junior at Germantown High School, Wright took one cosmetology course for half of a semester before realizing the course would not include instruction on ethnic hair and dropping the class.

"The fees for the class were $170," Wright said. "It came with two mannequin heads. I was under the impression that one would be European and the other African-American. They were both European."

Wright said this "perpetuates the normalization of only one type of hair."

An SCS spokesperson said that the curriculum for the four-course cosmetology program currently offered in 14 of its high schools is created by the Tennessee State Board of Education as a part of its College, Career, and Technical Education (CCTE) program. The spokesperson added that SCS only offers CCTE programs approved by the state.

Wright plans to present the petition to the SCS board in January. In the meantime, she is looking for SCS students who have taken the cosmetology classes to speak about their experiences.

Wright hopes her effort will also help break down the stereotypes surrounding natural African-American hair, as well as start conversations on policies around natural hair in the workplace.

In July, Tennessee Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) introduced the Tennessee Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act to address natural hair in the workplace. Like similar bills passed in California and New York, the legislation would prohibit workplace policies that discourage certain hairstyles.

Having been discriminated against because of his hair in the past, Parkinson said this issue is "near and dear to [his] heart." As a lieutenant in the Shelby County Fire Department, Parkinson said he nearly lost his job because of his dreadlocks.

"I myself have been a victim of discrimination in the workplace for wearing dreads," Parkinson said. "My job was threatened. Disciplinary action was threatened. And at the time there was no policy against wearing certain hairstyles."

Parkinson was written up for his hairstyle of choice and, as a result, eventually cut his dreadlocks.

"A lot of people don't understand African-American hair," Parkinson said. "People have one idea of what beauty is and what the standard should be. And in a lot of cases, the standard is European. African Americans are born with a certain type of hair, and there should be no discrimination whatsoever."

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