Ward-Johnson writes
Observer op-ed column


An op-ed column written by School of Communications faculty member Frances Ward-Johnson appeared in the Aug. 29 edition of the Fayetteville Observer.

Headlined "Censoring Hair," the column focuses on a recent controversy in the Cumberland County School system in which a new appearance policy bans athletes from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and long hair. After some parents said the policy unfairly targets African Americans, the Cumberland County school superintendent reversed the policy to let individual schools decide their own hair rules.

According to Ward-Johnson, a new groundswell of protest against hairstyles worn primarily by Africans Americans is prevalent and some cases are ending up in court. Often the plaintiffs are protesting workplace grooming policies, school bans and prison restraints, she points out.

"Indeed, controversy over African American hair styles is not just idle chit-chat in Cumberland County beauty parlors these days," she writes. "It has become the subject of numerous legal cases, newspaper and magazine articles and law publications across the country,"

Ward-Johnson points out that ethnic hairstyles are not just a trend. "Many blacks - women and men alike - have stopped relaxing or chemically straightening their hair to conform to European-American standards and have taken 'the natural' a step further than a close-cropped haircut."

A former newspaper reporter and public relations manager, Ward-Johnson has researched the subject of hair censorship extensively and has presented on the subject to local, national and international audiences.

"For some blacks, the repression of natural hairstyles dates back to slavery, when many black women covered their hair with bandanas and kerchiefs due to the negative references to their hair by slaveholders," she writes. "Additionally, negative comments about African American hair have permeated advertising, television and other media. African Americans - adults and teenagers - donning natural hairstyles in today's culture are often displaying cultural pride for their African roots."

Ward-Johnson concludes: "It's time for school officials as well as corporate employers to focus less on perceptions of uneasiness and negative stereotypes associated with the physical intrusion of these natural hairstyles and more on their cultural and social importance."

The column can be read in its entirety by clicking on the link below:




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Last Modified:  8/31/04
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