Black women’s hair is political.
It is scrutinized, policed, protested over, ostracized, ridiculed, debated, and ultimately shamed.
It always has been.
On April 19, Nicole Pyles faced a difficult decision that should’ve never been proposed. In the middle of her senior night game against her Hillside High School rivals Jordan High, Pyles could cut the beads from her hair or leave the game.
“It was humiliating,” Nicole Pyles said in a Zoom interview with the News and Observer on Wednesday. “Why do I have to take away from myself just to play this game where we are actually doing well? I’m embarrassed because you pick on me in front of all these people for no reason.”
The News and Observer notes that the request came from two of the game’s umpires who were “following a strict interpretation of a National Federation of State High School Associations rule that allows players to use bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips but prohibits plastic visors, bandannas and hair beads.”
In a Facebook Live recording of the game, a sad request can be heard from the Hillside dugout: “Does anyone have scissors?”
Pyles ultimately decided to let her teammates cut her hair to remove the beads so she could finish her team’s senior night game. She should’ve never been forced to make this decision. It’s always the Black girls who have to cut off parts of themselves to fit in.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) official softball rule book notes that beads are prohibited, but Durham Public Schools launched an investigation into the incident, noting in a statement Wednesday “DPS believes this rule is culturally biased.” DPS also added that they fully support Pyles and noted that the rule should be changed.
“DPS supports our student-athletes and their right to self-expression in a manner befitting their culture, consistent with safety in training and competition,” the statement said. “We believe the blanket ban on hair beads is culturally biased and problematic. We support our student, Nicole Pyles, and believe this rule should be amended. We frown on any rule or policy that promotes cultural insensitivity or does not reflect the ideals and principles of DPS and our employees.”
From the News and Observer:
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has also taken issue with the rule, saying this is a “hair discrimination incident” while calling on Durham and state officials to “pass policies that eradicate all forms of anti-Black biases in schools.”
In January, Durham passed a non-discrimination policy covering hairstyles. Since then, Orange and Mecklenburg counties, as well as Carrboro and Greensboro, enacted similar policies. Bills to make those policies statewide laws were filed in both houses of the General Assembly this year but neither passed.
The statement from Durham Public Schools said a joint investigation, along with the N.C. High Schools Athletics Association, determined the umpires made the decision to ask Pyles to remove the beads on their own, without any input from the Jordan High coaching staff.
The investigation comes far later than Julius Pyles, Nicole’s father, wanted.
“I think it should have happened when the incident took place, it shouldn’t have taken this long,” Julius Pyles told The News & Observer in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “This is an incident that should have been addressed immediately.”
For some reason the umpires didn’t even take note of Pyles’ beads until the second inning, which means they must not have been that noticeable.
The umpires approached Nicole Pyles after Jordan completed its at-bat in the top of the second inning of the game at Hillside. She states that she was told that she would have to cut her hair to keep playing.”
“At this point, I feel humiliated, embarrassed because everybody was just trying to figure out what to do,” Pyles said. “I know these beads have to come out. There’s nothing I can do to stop this.”
“I was upset,” she said. “He had seen me play multiple times....if it was a rule that’s that important why wasn’t it enforced the first time you spoke to me or you saw me come on the field or off the field or any of that?”
Pyles would love nothing more than to have the softball rule changed.
“I want to see the rule changed, specifically the beads rule,” she said, adding the incident, “embarrassed me, hurt me, hurt my family, embarrassed my teammates on their senior night in front of their families, their friends, previous Hillside students who played at Hillside years ago and graduated college.
“I don’t feel like their first time coming back to watch a softball game they need to see me being discriminated against at a softball game, having to cut my hair just to play.”