Culture, Education, Hairstyles and the Diocese of San Diego

Jan 17, 2020

A 16-year-old young man was suspended a week ago from Mater Dei High School because of his hairstyle.  While that suspension has been rescinded, it never should have been allowed to happen at all. Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said that “the matter has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction;” we are here to tell Mr Eckery that the matter most certainly has not been resolved to our satisfaction.

The Diocese of San Diego is a private institution and thus Mater Dei High School is allowed to make its own rules within certain limits.  Religious organizations are furthermore given latitude by our government on issues of faith and conscience. This latitude is not extend to illegal discrimination, nor is hairstyle a matter touched on by the Catholic faith.

Hairstyle may seem like a small matter at first glance to the lily-white and all-male leadership of the Diocese of San Diego.  What they may not recognize is the cultural importance of hairstyle. While Catholicism is mum on the issue, sects of Islam, Judaism and even Christanity regulate hairstyle.  Furthermore, African-Americans, sadly remaining suffering as we do from so much discrimination, use our hairstyles as a way to remain in touch with our long cultural heritage.

We therefore believe that the Mater Dei High School’s action consists of illegal discrimination based on race, and is not a protected exercise of their religion.  We might have expected the Diocese of San Diego, whose all-male leaders wear dresses, to have a little more flexibility and understanding toward long-standing cultural norms.  We also might have expected the Diocese of San Diego, given certain practices in their own culture that have come to light in recent years, to keep its distance from the heads and bodies of young men in its care.  

We demand the Diocese of San Diego to do better, and we stand ready to assist any efforts they make to train themselves and their employees in the African-American experience, explicit/implicit bias, and cultural sensitivity.  We are celebrating a century of standing sentry over the civil rights of San Diego residents, and we are well-equipped to help rectify this matter.

Francine Maxwell, First Vice President and Acting President
NAACP San Diego Branch