Gawker Heroes: Vanessa Van Dyke

Vanessa VanDyke is the girl who last month refused to cut her long natural hair when her Orlando private school deemed it a "distraction." VanDyke's classmates had been teasing the 12-year-old about her hairstyle, so the administrative solution was to ask her to style it differently. VanDyke responded by saying she'd rather leave the school. That was heroic, and Vanessa and her parents should be celebrated for refusing to yield.

What's the underlying lesson when an authority figure tells a black girl that her natural hair is unacceptable for a serious environment? What's the underlying lesson when an authority figure responds to a black girl being teased for wearing her hair naturally by telling that girl, not her tormenters, that she needs to change her behavior? It is, I think, the exact same lesson at the heart of a Glamour editor saying that black working women shouldn't wear afros for fear of looking "unprofessional," that lesson being: people who look too black do not belong in the upper echelons of society.

Unfortunately, there are probably going to be many more times in Vanessa's life that she'll be asked to feel embarrassed for the color of her skin and the poof of her hair. It's wonderful that she's already learned to respond, "No."


More Gawker heroes: Ken Layne on Pope Francis, Hamilton Nolan on Subway Brie Man, Cord Jefferson on Vanessa Van Dyke, Rich Juzwiak on Kanye West, Camille Dodero on Antoinette Tuff, J.K. Trotter on Erik Wemple, Adam Weinstein on Alice Munro, Taylor Berman on Anthony Graves, Beejoli Shah on Shia LaBeouf, Caity Weaver on Beyoncé Selfie Perfect Teen, Sam Biddle on Josh Tetrick, Lacey Donohue on Wendy Davis, Tom Scocca on Ai Weiwei, Max Read on @Dril, and John Cook on Rob Ford.