I can’t believe this is happening again. (Actually, though, yes I can, because people can be cruel and stupid. And that’s being generous.)
About this time last year, I wrote a blog post titled “Body Autonomy” about 7-year-old Jurnee Hoffmeyer, whose teacher cut her hair without gaining permission from the parents, or even notifying anyone. Jurnee is biracial, and has a head of beautiful curls. Or she had, anyway, prior to the scalping she received from her teacher. I hope it has grown out at least a little bit since then, but that still wouldn’t make it right.
While looking for updates about Jurnee’s story, I discovered that the school has done an independent investigation of the incident, and has decided that the haircut, while inappropriate, was not racially motivated. The people involved were given a stern talking to. They’re still employed.
I have to call bullshit on the school’s conclusions. If it wasn’t racially motivated, they’d be chopping off the hair of every little white girl with long straight hair, too. They’d open up a hair salon on school grounds. They aren’t. They haven’t. They never would.
Jurnee’s father filed a lawsuit against the school and that teacher toward the end of last year, but I could not find anything about the status of the suit at the time of this writing. I hope they get everything they’re asking for. They should also ask that that teacher’s hair be chopped off so it will dawn on her what she did. One way or another, I’m hoping that there will be #JusticeforJurnee.
And then I stumbled across yet another forced haircut. According to this article, this time the unnamed victim was a 12-year-old boy in Minnesota. His afro was chopped off by a teacher, again, without consulting anybody.
When this child’s mother cut to the chase and contacted the police, they blew off her concerns. They said her son gave consent, something he’s not legally old enough to do, and something that he’d quite easily be intimidated into doing due to the unequal power dynamic between student and teacher. The police said it was just miscommunication and that the mother should take it up with the school.
I’m disgusted with the Minnesota police for deciding this was not assault. Would they be saying that if the teacher had cut off this kid’s fingers or toes? Of course not. It’s a little bit harder to ignore blood.
But here’s the thing. (And yes there’s always a thing.) No one has the right to manipulate or change someone else’s body without consent. It’s important that we teach our children this from the very beginning.
No one, family members included, has a right to touch anyone else in any way without permission. This umbrella statement covers a whole range of behaviors, from brutally violent acts right on down to the most well-intentioned hug. No tickling, no hitting, no groping, no pushing, no folding, no spindling, no mutilating. Not even a pat on the back.
No means no, and if you don’t want to be touched, even if you are too intimidated to articulate that no, then you still should not be touched. And if the person in question is a minor, then you also need the no or yes from that person’s guardian. Any toucher should confirm that their touch is acceptable before touching. Why is that such a hard concept for people to understand?
Yes, hair grows back. Yes, haircuts aren’t usually known to hurt. But your hair is part of your body, so you have a right to have autonomy over it. Granted, we all sometimes could use a haircut, but the parent and the child should be the only ones making that decision. And the child should be coming at that mutual choice with an increasing amount of negotiating power as they age, within reason. The lesson they should be learning is my “body, my choice”. Otherwise they’ll never have the tools to stand firm against the many violators in this world.
Children should also be constantly reminded that everyone on earth is different from one another, and that’s not only okay, it’s wonderful, and they are wonderful. We seem to overlook the importance of teaching that. (Perhaps that’s a blog post for another day. Back to the subject at hand.)
These forced haircuts, which I suspect are a lot more common than we care to believe, aren’t about haircuts. They are aggressive. They are quite often racially motivated. The lesson the child learns is, “The way you look is wrong.” “I know better than you do how you should appear.” “I can do anything I want to your body, and you can’t do anything about it.” “You have no control over what happens to you.” “You can’t be allowed to feel safe.”
As someone who once had her hair chopped off as a child, I can tell you that it does major damage to your self-esteem. A lot of our ego is wrapped up in our hair. And people of color in this country have to contend with the societal pressure that comes with having natural hair that doesn’t conform to preconceived standards. They are often teased and humiliated over something they can’t, and shouldn’t have to, control.
This is why I go out of my way to compliment people with curly hair. It really is beautiful. But because it’s unique, people with curly hair have probably been teased. My compliment, maybe, will counteract at least one of those childhood teases. Being shamed for your differences is awful enough, but to then have someone physically alter you based on their concept of what constitutes bad hair is a violation. It’s humiliating, it’s aggressive. It’s assault.
Even the state-sanctioned Russian terrorists who are invading Ukraine know this. I came across this photo recently, and it is proof positive that these animals are aware of the damage that forced haircuts can cause.
The caption for this photo reads as follows: There were 15 women among the 86 Ukrainian captives released today in a prisoner exchange for Russian soldiers. The Russians shaved them in an attempt at humiliation. Funny though, they do not look the least bit humiliated. Never will you humiliate Ukrainian women, they are the bravest in the world!”
And I do have to say that these women seem to be bearing up well under this assault. I hope this was the worst thing that happened during their captivity, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it wasn’t. They shouldn’t have to bear up well, though. That’s the point. No one has a right to take their bodies and do whatever they want to them. Hopefully they’re too focused on the project at hand, defending their freedom, to be too psychologically damaged by what happened to them. That, and they’re adults with better coping skills than a child might have.
But the bottom line is that what happened to these children and these women is not okay. It needs to be taken seriously. It needs to be acknowledged by society at large, not just by this blogger, who is currently full of outrage and righteous indignation.
Keep your hands to yourself. It’s that simple.
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