During the 12 years Desiree Stanislas worked at a law enforcement agency, she said she was not able to wear her hair the way she wanted, even though she felt it was who she was inside.
“This agency, I won’t mention the name, had a strict hair policy,” Stanislas said. “No unnatural hair color, no braids or dreadlocks. This was a culture shock to me since I was accustomed to wearing my hair like that.”
Speaking to members of the Baytown Area Democrats at the Sterling Municipal Library Tuesday, Stanislas shared her own experience with hair policies similar to what her cousin, Deandre Arnold has been exposed to. Arnold was a Barbers Hill ISD senior who refused to cut his dreadlocks to comply with what some feel is an outdated dress code policy. This has led to a national outcry where even celebrities in Hollywood and the sports world are backing the young man.
“I tried to stay within the guidelines of their hair policy,” Stanislas said. “When I became more comfortable and had some years under my belt, I decided to venture out a little bit.”
Stanislas said she had her hair “sewn-in,” which means her hair was braided straight back, and tracks of hair are crossed and sewn in. She also had red highlights added.
“I thought I could get away with that because my Caucasian counterparts highlighted their hair all of the time,” she said. “When I went to work that day, I was pulled into the office and told, “What are you doing? You cannot wear your hair like that.’”
Stanislas said she was told to go home and not come back until her hair was fixed to meet the agency’s dress code. The $150 hairstyle had to be totally undone and cut.
“When you pay for this and have to throw it away like this because of a policy that doesn’t understand that my hair may not look like yours, but that doesn’t mean it is not professional, it is heartbreaking,” she said.
Stanislas said she tried to recruit a fellow African-American female worker to help get the policy changed, but she refused. Later, some of the other policies changed, such as allowing tattoos to show and the men to grow beards. But the hair policy never changed, Stanislas said.
Today, Stanislas is at a new agency where they have no problem with her braided hair.
“It was wonderful to be accepted who you are,” she said. “I am comfortable and love where I am now.”
With her cousin’s experience hitting the national spotlight with an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a trip to the 92nd Academy Awards, Stanislas is advocating a new proposed law aimed at ending hair discrimination for blacks. The Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, was introduced recently by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
“One of our goals is to get the CROWN Act passed,” Stanislas said. “They want to call it the ‘Deandre Bill.’”
The bill will not go to the Texas House until January 2021, Stanislas said.
“The CROWN Act was passed in California in July,” she said. “Also, existing federal law prohibits some form of hair discrimination. Some federal courts have narrowly construed that protection in a way that permits schools, workplaces and federally- funded institutions to discriminate against people of African-American descent that wear certain types of naturally protective hairstyles.”
Stanislas said there is a serious effort to get the proposed law passed.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “We are not the only ones that have suffered from this. Our short-term goal is to get the words “when let down” removed from Barbers Hill’s policy. That way, Deandre can return to school, not face being an in-suspension student and walk with his peers in graduation. The next short-term goal is to get the whole thing removed. It is sexist. Why can’t boys wear their hair long, if girls can wear it long? I’ve asked that question. If you believe in something, you should be able to back it up and say why this rule was put into place.”
Barbers Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole submitted a column to the Baytown Sun, where he brought up a former trustee of the board, M.Q. Bradford, who is related to Arnold. Bradford served on the Barbers Hill board from 1970 to 1984. Poole said, “we had the same high expectation, including the dress code. Our district successes in all areas are directly attributed to the high standards our community has always expected.”
However, Cindy Bradford, a relative of the former board member as well as Arnold’s and whose own son, Braden Bradford, is also having issues with the district over his dreadlocks, was not pleased with Poole’s mention of her relative.
“He lives in a bubble,” Cindy Bradford said. “His grandfather did sit on the board, that is correct. But that was many years ago. He is trying to use him. Just because you had one African-American person sit on your board does not give you the right to say this is African-American representation.”
Sandy Arnold, Deandre Arnold’s mother, is a niece of M.Q. Bradford.
“He is probably rolling over in his grave,” she said. “(Poole) is holding on to that for dear life. He has nothing else.”
The CROWN Act has passed in New Jersey and New York as well as California. In December, Sen. Corey Booker unveiled a federal bill that would end hair discrimination. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown co-sponsored the bill while U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Marcia Fudge, and Barbara Lee joined him.