Case of 11-year-old suspended from school because of his hair highlights a damaging stigma

Troy, Texas - For many years now, people of color from all around the country have shared their ongoing experiences with discrimination against their natural hair, as well as the various styles they wear it in.

Maddox Cozart was suspended for wearing his hair in cornrows.
Maddox Cozart was suspended for wearing his hair in cornrows.  © Screenshot/Facebook/Hope Cozart

An 11-year-old student named Maddox Cozart from Troy, Texas recently spent over 10 days in in-school suspension at his elementary school simply because he wore his hair in cornrows.

The boy's mother, Hope Cozart, told Spectrum News that she gave their son the style after the family decided he couldn't have dreadlocks like his dad.

The student handbook for Troy Independent School District states that between second and 12th grade, a boy's hair "may not be worn in a ponytail, top knot, bun, or similar styles."

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Apparently, the school district felt cornrows fell under the "similar styles" category of its dress code, and used it as grounds to suspend Maddox.

"His hair is different than mine. His hair is different than his sister's, which that's something else that they don't understand," Cozart said.

The root of hair discrimination

This is just one of many cases, most of which tend to go under the radar, as John Oliver showed in an episode of Last Week Tonight.

The host did one of his typical deep dives into the issue, explaining the differences between how white people and people of color are raised to view their hair, and how those differences often form the basis of discrimination.

Natural hair can be styled in many ways and hairstyles have been woven into African American culture for decades as a means to help keep hair clean, manageable, and fuss-free.

Weaves, cornrows, dreadlocks, and other various styles shouldn't be a reason to count someone out in any regard, or strip a child of their right to an education.

The type of hair discrimination Maddox and so many others experience is something the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act aims to negate.

The bill proposed anti-discrimination laws to protect those who are unfairly disciplined for simply carrying out their heritage. Although it's already law in nine states, as well as cities and counties all over the country, the CROWN Act died in the Texas House on Thursday, according to ABC affiliate KVUE.

There is much for those unfamiliar with natural hair to learn about the styles and their cultural significance, and it starts with leaning into education and an having an open mind about others' histories.

Cover photo: Screenshot/Facebook/Hope Cozart

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