A full-grown white man wearing an Afro wig is never a good idea. In fact, it’s totally unacceptable. So why would a teacher at Shawnee Mission East High School don one for a Chiefs spirit day?
A photo of the smiling educator dressed in a Patrick Mahomes No. 15 jersey and Afro with a headband is appalling. It was posted on the student council’s Instagram account Feb. 2 before being removed. But screenshots are forever, and one ended up in my inbox.
“Jersey Tuesday was a success with these East faculty members,” the caption on the hideous snapshot read.
Several students and their parents passionately implored school Principal Scott Sherman to address the issue. How does it make Black students feel to see a white faculty member sporting an Afro, some asked. And a hairstyle has nothing to do with a jersey day, anyway.
The school did not make Sherman available for an interview. I reached out to the teacher directly but didn’t hear back. He certainly didn’t commit a crime, so I am reluctant to name him.
The incident was handled as a personnel issue, a district spokesman said. There is no districtwide policy that prohibits Afro wigs. Maybe there should be.
Some argue that the Chiefs and their all-world quarterback Mahomes signed off an official line of headbands with curly-haired wigs attached. The replica hairpieces were for sale at some grocery stores, and knockoffs are readily available for purchase online.
But that argument doesn’t hold weight for me. The headband-wig combo was a bad idea from the start. One look at the distasteful photo and it’s easy to see why students at Shawnee Mission East were offended.
Cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity are real issues in a predominately white but diversifying school district such as Shawnee Mission, where the minority student population was nearly 38% at the start of the school year.
In fact, the district recently passed a measure that bans mascots that disparage a group of people. An 11-year-old student pushed to change the Shawnee Mission North Indians and other derogatory team names.
Black people are often discriminated against for Afros and other natural hairstyles, civil rights advocates say. Legislation similar to Kansas City’s recently-passed CROWN Act has been introduced in Kansas to ban discrimination based on a person’s hair. Adults in influential positions should know better.
“Our bodies are not costumes,” University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Jamila Jefferson-Jones said.
Heather Rubesch, a parent of two students at Shawnee Mission East, asked: What if the Chiefs’ star quarterback were of Asian descent? Would it be OK for teachers to wear a mask mimicking Asian eyes? Of course not.
“It was a very cartoonish Afro,” Rubesch, vice chair of the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, said. “It was blackface-looking. The wig was really bad.”
Some think the issue is no big deal. And I asked the Chiefs if Mahomes had considered the message the headband-wig combo could send.
I hadn’t heard back as of Tuesday evening.
There are creative ways to honor and celebrate the Chiefs and their star quarterback. White people wearing Afro wigs is definitely not one.