Black Girl Punished For Wearing Brown Leggings: the Policing Of Our Daughters’ Bodies In School

An 11-year-old black honors student in California was booted out of class for wearing… wait for it… leggings. Not just any old leggings, mind you. But—gasp!—dark brown leggings that, in one teacher assistant’s eyes, made the tween look so much like a hottentot that she needed to have a seat in the principal’s office for being “racy.”

Mind you, Daja, a student at Mount Gleason Middle School, is about fiftyleven shades lighter than the chocolate leggings the teacher’s assistant pegged “skin-colored,” and about as big as a twig; nothing about her outfit or the way it looks on her appears inappropriate. Still, the teacher’s assistant insisted the leggings made the little girl look like she had on no pants—a punishable offense in her book.

Now, Daja’s mom, Yolanda Tunstill, is mulling a discrimination suit against the Los Angeles Unified School District, arguing that her daughter was singled out because of her skin color. Tunstill points out that her daughter wears leggings to school “all the time” and that school officials never had a problem with her wearing them “until she wore the brown ones, and then it became a problem.” Deja’s mom told KTLA news, “I felt discriminated against. Shocked… like, I mean, are you serious?”

Mount Gleason Middle School defended itself by tossing up the school dress code policy, which bars students from wearing “sleepwear, loungewear and tights” to class. The Los Angeles Unified School District later got in on the action, insisting that Daja was not dismissed from class due to her skin color and noting that the “appropriate administrative action” was taken against the teacher’s assistant. Despite this, Ms. Tunstill is considering suing the district.

While I think suing is overkill, I promise you that I see Tunstill’s point. All-too-many school administrators—particularly those in the middle and high schools—have a particularly disturbing pattern of leaning heavily on dress codes to punish black girls for looking racy. Fast. Sexual. Even, and especially, when they’re doing nothing more than tucking their curvy figures into the same clothes every other teenager is wearing.

Case in point: when Nick’s niece was a high school senior living with us here in Georgia and attending our local high school, on at least a dozen occasions, school administrators deemed her outfits overly suggestive—her skirt was too short, her tank top straps were too thin, her t-shirt was too high. They had written guidelines for girls, but they were very vague and pretty much left it up to the interpretation of teachers and administrators to determine who was appropriate and who was not. All too often, that interpretation was rooted in how “sexual” the adults thought the young ladies looked in their clothing, and my adorable niece—Beyonce bootylicious, looking like a Bratz doll come to life—always, in the eyes of mostly white, mostly female teachers, looked “sexual.” It didn’t matter if she was wearing a tank top and a mini skirt or jeans with a t-shirt and a hoodie—clothes that were approved and purchased by her mother and me and that fit squarely into the school’s dress code—inevitably, some woman would see her walking to class and send her to the principal’s office for dressing inappropriately.

And then I’d get the call, gather up some sweats and an oversized tee and run up to the school looking for my niece, passing at least 10 white girls in the halls rocking damn near the same exact “offensive” outfits that would get my niece into a world of trouble.

And I would just get pissed. No doubt, a tank top, sweater and skirt looks different on the frame of a thin, boxy white girl than it does on an hour glass-shaped black girl, but what, exactly, makes the outfit appropriate on one girl and “racy” on the other? And how often do deeply-rooted stereotypes of black girls and women as hypersexualized, vulgar, ghetto, animalistic, titillating hookers play into the snap decisions made by the arbiters of appropriate schoolwear?

All too often, I assure you. And frankly, I’m over adults looking at black girl hips and bubble butts and thick thighs and policing them as a problem rather than just letting our daughters… be.

Granted, there is something to be said for the taste level of the American teen. And children and teen clothiers are making it increasingly harder for us moms to dress our kids according to their age, something I complain about regularly and loudly. But really, there needs to be a deeper level of discussion about the way schools respond to the way black moms dress their little girls—and the punishment of Daja, who, on the most base of levels, is an 11-year-old honor student who got in trouble for wearing a t-shirt and leggings to class. For being a little black girl.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I’m a little confused- in the case of Daja (who I don’t think looks innappropriate at all), if the school district believes they weren’t wrong about disciplining her, why was “administrative action” taken against the teacher’s assistant?

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Agreed, Anne. I’m not sure, either. I read several different reports and it seems as if the school said one thing (her leggings violated school dress code) and the district said something else (she wasn’t discriminated against, didn’t get kicked out of school and the TA was wrong and disciplined). I’ll certainly clarify when I get more info…

  2. Why r we having this convo..that lawsuit is a waste of folks time who gives a rip what color her tights are? I mean the middle east is burning we bout to b in a war and we discussing stupid stuff. Thats a waste of brain cells

  3. Why is the teacher so concerned ive seen students wear worse why are we having this convo

  4. Sorry let me explain. What does the color of her pants matter whats going in her brain im angry i have to have this convo and why we have to sue about dress code. She looks fine to b this is not england why in 2012 are we have this convo at all..this is minor esp when kids are shooting up schools. Was doing a pole dance in the cafetaria..okay then if the school does have a dress code why are they walk out the house in clothes stuff that looks like pajamas..if the leggings wear pink would she b sent home. It sounds like the teacher got issue and needs to work on her marriage..i would b pissed if i get a call while im a work about my daughter getting kicked out of school for some leggings wasting my time

  5. Daja’s outfit looks fine to me. But maybe the school has a strict dress code…also, the outline of her behind/private parts or underwear might have been visible through the tights she was wearing. I don’t think it was necessary for them to make it about the color of her skin.

    As a teacher who has taught both private and public school, I have to say that clothing is generally an issue when it comes to the latter, because uniforms are worn in private schools.

    I’ve had to call a few parents myself because their daughters were dressed inappropriately or provocatively. I’m not sure that the mother should sue…that’s a bit dramatic. The teacher and the TA should apologize, then everyone should move on. But I do believe that if the rules state “no tights” to class, the rules should be followed. It doesn’t matter what color the tights are. Maybe a cute skirt could have been worn over them to modify the look somewhat, so it doesn’t look like she is simply wearing them as pants.

    She is a skinny little girl with no curves, but sometimes tights made of thin material can still show things that shouldn’t be seen by others.

    I am a Black teacher, BTW. I agree that some teachers (including teachers of color) do police the bodies of young Black girls and this isn’t right, unless they also do the same to non-black students.

  6. I have just the slightest personal taste of what you’re talking about. In high-school my appearance was somewhere along the lines of punk. I regularly wore shorts and tights to school. I was sent home to change once because my shorts were too short – no skin showing due to opaque tights – even though I’d seen “normal” girls in equally short shorts and no tights and a boy who regularly wore a shirt that said F.U.C.K (Not french connection, Van Halen) and they weren’t sent home. And it’s also true that the bodies of women with curves are automatically seen as more sexual – as a very curvy woman I can tell you, there is no such thing as clothes that are loose fitting on my chest or hips. Add to that all of the stereotypes attached to Black women and girls and I’m not at all surprised that this is happening. Sickened, but not surprised.

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