Earlier this month reports circulated that Barbers Hill High School senior DeAndre Arnold was suspended from school and told he can't attend his graduation because of the length of his locs. Many have come to the teen's defense as Arnold's story appears to be a clear-cut case of discrimination against Black hair.
Among those showing their support are DeGeneres and Keys as the two gifted the teen with a $20,000 college scholarship on the Wednesday episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
"I'm sure this is not easy or comfortable for you," the talk show host said. "But I want you to just relax and know that I'm here for you."
DeGeneres went on to say she doesn't "understand" the issue with his hair.
"You get good grades," she said. "You've never been in trouble, ever. This is the first time anything has come up. And now, you haven't been in school for weeks because of this situation."
"I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want, especially if there's girls with long hair," the host continued after asking the high schooler if his female peers wore their hair long, to which he gave an affirmative response. "What's the difference if girls have long hair and if guys have long hair?"
When asked about the significance of his locs, Arnold said it's a way for him to embrace his roots.
"It's really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad," the teen replied. "And I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures and just, at least, let us try to tell you some things. Don't just shut us out."
DeGeneres then invited Keys to the stage to award Arnold, an aspiring veterinarian, with a $20,000 scholarship for college.
"I want to tell you that I couldn't believe the story when I heard it," the "Underdog" singer told Arnold. "And I'm super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right. And I know that the school needs to do the right thing."
"Me and Ellen, you know we called our friends at Shutterfly because we know that you're a special person and you're destined already for such greatness and we wanted to support that greatness and invest in that greatness and so we wanted to present you with a check for $20,000," Keys, who recently hosted the 62nd Grammy Awards, said.
Arnold's mother, Sandy Arnold, has withdrawn her son from the school following the controversy reports Click2Houston. Wildly enough, Arnold's cousin and Barbers Hill High sophomore, Kaden Bradford, has also recently been suspended from the school over his locs, as Blavity previously reported.
Original story (January 21, 2020): DeAndre Arnold of Mont Belvieu, Texas, was suspended because of his hairstyle. He's also been told that he can't walk for his graduation unless he cuts his hair.
Arnold will either have to cut his locs to a shorter length or will not be able to graduate with his classmates at Barbers Hill High School in three months, reports KHOU 11.
School officials are claiming its a long-standing policy that has nothing to do with race or ethnicity while others are looking at it as a clear-cut case of racial discrimination.
"The dress code is designed by white people for white people and is damaging to Black bodies," Black Lives Matter activist Ashton Woods said.
On Monday, activists joined the Arnold family as they addressed the Barbers Hill school board. Their hope is that they can come to a resolution.
"This is a Black and white issue, Deandre (and) his family should not have to go through this. But I expect it from a board that has zero diversity," stated Gary Monroe, with the United Urban Alumni Association.
The board insists that the issue is not a racial one but one stemming from a rule instituted decades ago.
"There is no dress code policy that prohibits any cornrow or any other method of wearing of the hair, our policy limits the length. It's been that way for 30 years," iterated Superintendent Greg Poole.
Speakers at the meeting asked the board to reconsider their stance. Some see the issue surrounding Arnold's hair as an unnecessary hindrance to his education that could also affect other students in the future.
"We're here for Deandre, but it's about more than that, this is about all the other Deandres that could come through Barbers Hill," Sandy Arnold, Deandre's mother said.
Deandre's family and supporters vow to fight this decision and take more drastic steps if need be.
"They have 48 hours to come up with a resolution or we're taking this to federal court," Monroe stated.
Despite laws passed in California and New York which outlaw discrimination due to natural hairstyles, many institutions are clearly failing to keep up with the times. Some individuals are downright disrespectful with their reactions to said hairstyles.
In December 2019, two New York girls were expelled from dance school because their braids did not adhere to the school's hair policy, as Blavity previously reported. Lisa Skinner’s daughters Brooke and April missed out on performing in Uptown Dance Academy’s rendition of "Black Nutcracker" because Skinner refused to remove the girls' braids.
Uptown founder Robin Williams told Skinner “if they show up in braids to the 'Black Nutcracker,' they will not be permitted to participate,” according to PIX11.
The rules require all dancers to wear their hair in a bun and specifically bans braids, even when they can be styled into a bun.
On January 13, another incident surrounding hair made headlines in the media. While going through airport security, Indigenous activist and attorney Tara Houska was subjected to having her hair treated like a toy by a TSA agent.
After being asked to undergo a hair pat-down, Houska said she complied with the agent's request only for the woman to snap her two braids like reins and say “giddy up," as Blavity previously reported.