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.
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.