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In Expert Testimony Professor Wendy Greene Shows Hair Styles Can Express Identity

Professor Wendy Greene

September 02, 2020

Professor Wendy Greene is a leading voice in the movement to end discrimination against Black hairstyles in the workplace and in schools. She has served as a legal expert in legislative hearings, including in the passing of California’s Creating Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (C.R.O.W.N.) Act and similar legislation in Maryland.

Recently, Greene was an expert witness in Everett De’Andre Arnold, et al. v. Civil Action No. 4:20-CV-1802 Barbers Hill Independent School District, et al, where she provided “persuasive historical and sociological evidence” showing that hair styles can be an expression of identity, according to a preliminary injunction issued by the Honorable George C. Hanks Jr. of the United States District Court Southern District of Texas – Houston Division.

Greene testified on behalf of plaintiff Kaden Bradford, a Black high school student at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas. In early 2020, Bradford, who wears his hair in locs, was given suspended for a dress code violation after the school changed its dress code to specify that male students’ hair could not exceed a certain length when their hair was “let down.” Prior to the policy change, the dress code did not specify length limitations when hair was let down, allowing male students, like Bradford, to adhere to the dress code by tying their hair up.

Bradford’s cousin De’Andre Arnold, who attended Barbers Hill High School last year but has since graduated, was also suspended for wearing his locs long. Bradford and Arnold’s parents sued the school districts claiming that the dress code was discriminatory.

In the injunction issued on August 17, 2020, Judge Hanks agreed with Bradford’s claim and testimony. During his testimony, Bradford expressed his desire to wear his hair in locs, because it’s part of his “Black culture and heritage” and because he wished to emulate the style of family members with West Indian roots who also wear their hair in locs.

Hanks’ decision was also in agreement with Greene’s testimony, which held that Bradford’s locs are communicative, and therefore, warrant First Amendment protection. “Visibly wearing one’s hair in a particular manner is capable of communicating one’s religion or heritage,” according to Greene.

As a result of the injunction, Bradford will be able to attend Barbers Hill High School without facing punitive action from the school in response to the way in which he expresses his cultural and racial identity.

Greene, whose scholarship focuses on the intersection between race, gender and the law, is also the author of the forthcoming book #FreeTheHair: Locking Black Hair to Civil Rights Movements.