It would be hard to imagine a click-bait story that features more unfortunate stereotypes about race and religion than the USA Today report about the young Florida student who was forbidden to enroll in a small Christian school because of his dreadlocks.
Turn up the social-media heat under this headline: "Florida school receiving death threats after turning away 6-year-old with dreadlocks."
Actually, the Washington Post piece on the same topic went one step further by putting everyone's favorite religion F-word in the headline: "A little boy with dreadlocks enrolled at a fundamentalist Christian school. It didn’t go well."
Let's stick with the USA Today piece, which is more compact and less sensationalistic. Here is the overture:
A private Christian school in Florida is facing backlash after a 6-year-old black child was turned away on his first day of class because of his dreadlocks.
Clinton Stanley Jr. was all set for his first day at A Book’s Christian Academy, but when he arrived, he was denied entry because of his hair. His dad, Clinton Stanley Sr., expressed his frustration in a now-viral video on Facebook Monday.
“My son just got told he cannot attend this school with his hair,” he said in the video. “If that’s not bias, I don’t know what is.”
The question hovering in the air is simple: Is this a case of racial bias at a predominately white Christian school? Hold that thought, because there is a crucial fact here that probably belongs in the lede -- especially with the Post using "fundamentalist" in its headline.
But first, consider this factual question: Was the dreadlocks card played as a racial ace in this case?
As it turns out, the school's policy is clear. USA Today notes:
The father decided to un-enroll his son right then and there. ... He said he was aware the school required a uniform, but was never told the dress code prohibits dreadlocks. The handbook posted online states boys may not wear “dreads, Mohawks, designs, unnatural color, or unnatural designs.”
The Post adds another detail that makes the story a bit more complex, quoting school administrator Sue Book:
Here comes the dispute, such as it is.
Book said the family was given a copy of the parent handbook when they enrolled, which spells out as plain as day: “All boys hair must be a tapered cut, off the collar and ears. There are to be no dreads, Mohawks, designs, unnatural color, or unnatural designs.”
Stanley said he’d never seen the book before Monday, on what was supposed to be C.J.’s first day of first grade.
School officials said they had discussed the policy with Stanley before the first day of school. Someone in this story isn't telling the whole truth.
However, the dreadlocks issue isn't The Big Idea, here. That isn't the issue that is lighting up the school's switchboard with calls, including a few death threats that led to sheriff's deputies visiting the school. Here is Sue Book again:
“They’re calling me everything under the sun,” she told The Post. “I’m getting it from everywhere, all parts of the country. Most of them do not speak intelligently. I bear with them until they start using the four-letter words. Then I’ll lay the phone down and play Christian music.”
So forget the "fundamentalist" tag in the Post, for a moment. The crucial issue here is racial discrimination.
This chunk of the USA Today story -- drawing on a local TV report -- is rather anecdotal, but crucial:
The school’s director, Rev. John Book, argued that because his school is a private school they have the right to set the dress code rules.
"You can see my school,” Book told NBC-2 WESH Tuesday. "It's probably 95% black. Obviously, I’m not a racist.
“In our school, our song is: Jesus loves the little children of the world, red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight,” he continued.
Let's ask a crucial question: Did any reporters actually visit the school?
Apparently, it has about 50 students. The key factual question: What is the percentage of African-Americans at this school? The photos on the school's website don't look like the student body is "95 percent" African-American, but it would appear the racial mix is 50-50 or maybe 60 percent black.
If, in fact, the school is predominately black, that is a fact that needed to be mentioned in the lede or near the very top of the story. Have black parents protested this policy? What is the school's relationship with local black churches? Also, it would be good to know if the parents of other black students at the school actually support the policy on long hair, unusual dyes, hip designs cut into the hair, etc.
The racial mix at this school is a crucial fact in a story in which lots of people, on social media, are playing the race card. Is it accurate, for example, to call a predominately black school an example of "white supremacy"?
FIRST IMAGE: Photo by Clinton Stanley, Sr., from social media.