Girl 12, alleges white classmates forcibly cut off her dreadlocks: 'Your hair is ugly and nappy'

Elise Solé
A 12-year-old girl in Virginia says three white classmates held her down and cut off her dreadlocks. (Screenshot: WJLA)

Three white male students allegedly held down a black classmate and cut off her dreadlocks at a Virginia school, calling them “nappy.”

Twelve-year-old Amari Allen, a 6th-grade student at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, shared the Monday ordeal with news station WJLA. “They put their hands on my back, they put their hand around my mouth, and they started to cut my hair,” she said.

“They actually told her, your hair is ugly and nappy,” Amari’s grandmother Cynthia Allen told NBC Washington. “They targeted her.” Amari told the station that the boys had been harassing her, stealing her lunch. According to the New York Times, the school was not aware that Amari had been bulled.

The school, at which Second Lady Karen Pence reportedly teaches art two days a week, is cooperating with a police investigation.

Fairfax County NAACP President Sean Perryman tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the family will meet with an attorney on Monday. “Depending on the results of the investigation, we will plan a rally in front of the campus to support the family,” he says, adding that restorative justice and appropriate consequences should be applied.

Perryman sent Yahoo Lifestyle an official statement from the NAACP, saying in part, “Immanuel Christian School must stand up for its students and immediately institute a zero tolerance policy for racism, discrimination, and harassment, especially when it rises to the level of assault...In a community as diverse as ours, children should be able to attend school without the fear of racist bullying, and focus on their education. Students must also have confidence that school administrators—public or private—will enforce their policies to protect them. Amari Allen, a straight A student and violinist, should be able to return to the school she loves tomorrow with the support of her fellow students, teachers, and faculty.”

Other national stories have cast a spotlight on the policing of black people’s hair. In December, a New Jersey wrestling referee was reportedly suspended for two seasons for forcing a player (who, according to Time, identifies as multi-racial) to either cut his wrapped dreadlocks or forfeit a match. A viral Twitter video of an official cutting wrestler Andrew Johnson’s hair angered much of the country.

This month, a Texas woman claimed that her 4-year-old grandson’s school said the boy’s long hair didn’t meet the dress code, which she feels discriminates against black students. The grandmother also alleged that when she asked how the dress code respected transgender students, an administrator told her, “...if I was that passionate about this, to put a dress on my grandson and instruct him to tell people that he is a girl.”

Tatum Independent School District superintendent Dr. J.P. Richardson reportedly told East Texas Matters in part, “Recently, social media claims have been made that Tatum ISD’s hair code is racially discriminatory and that District administration suggested a student identify as the opposite sex for purposes of limiting the applicability of that policy. The District vehemently denies these claims.”

According to WJLA, Amari did not tell anyone about the incident but came forward after feeling “like a weight was added to my shoulders.” Her family has filed a report with the Fairfax County Police Department. “I never thought about bullying being part of this curriculum,” Amari’s grandmother told the station.

A police spokesperson directed Yahoo Lifestyle to a published press release that read, “We are actively investigating an alleged assault on Sept. 23 at the Immanuel Christian School located in Fairfax County. The Va. Code Ann. § 16.1-301 prohibits our Police Department from disclosing to the community law enforcement records concerning juveniles. The code section also provides that such disclosures may only occur under certain circumstances, generally related to the disclosure of the information by order of the court or to individuals involved with the juvenile in the criminal justice system. As such, we are prohibited by law from disclosing further information regarding this case.”

And a spokesperson at Immanuel Christian School sent Yahoo Lifestyle a statement from head Stephen Danish: “We take seriously the emotional and physical well-being of all our students, and have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of bullying or abuse. We are deeply disturbed by the allegations being made, and are in communication with the young lady and her family to gather information and provide whatever support we can. All of the students involved in this matter have stepped away from school while the Fairfax County Policy Department conducts an investigation. We are cooperating with that investigation and further inquiries should be directed to FCPD.”

Amari’s grandparents did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s interview requests.

Clinical psychologist Gillian Scott-Ward, Ph.D., whose August documentary Back to Natural “is a powerful call for healing that takes a grassroots approach to exploring the globalized policing of natural Black hair,” tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the alleged attack is involves the intersection of race, gender, and religion.

“The question is, how can people who are not white males feel safe in their own bodies?” she says, pointing to a systemic model of power and structure that “perpetuates inequality.” One example, says Scott-Ward is an outdated medical belief that black people don’t feel as much pain as white people. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), such false ideas can lead to differences in pain treatment.

“There is an inherent disbelief in the humanity of black people,” Scott-Ward tells Yahoo Lifestyle, later adding, “we’re steeped in the belief through our education system and the media that whiteness in the norm.”

“Something could have happened that made them do this,” Amari told WJLA. “Because I know that’s the source of most bullying.”

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