The ACLU of Michigan is representing a white mother and her adopted African American son in a challenge to racial insensitivity in the Brighton school district. When her child was in second grade and the only Black child in his class, he decided to grow dreadlocks. In response to inquiries about his hair by classmates, his teacher placed a knit cap with artificial dreadlocks attached to the inside band on the child’s head and told the class the child’s hair would resemble the artificial locks when fully grown. When the child was told to look at himself in the bathroom mirror, the other students laughed at him. The child’s mother complained that the teacher humiliated her son by using him as an involuntary prop, but the principal dismissively claimed that the child was given advance notice of the demonstration and welcomed it. The principal also refused the mother’s request to arrange cultural competence training for the staff.
In February 2019 we filed a complaint asking the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to investigate. In 2021 racial problems in Brighton surfaced again when white Brighton High School students’ racist and homophobic social media posts went public. In response to the posts and community reactions, the ACLU wrote to the interim director of MDCR reminding him of the second grader’s pending complaint and explaining the racial hazards of maintaining a school district like Brighton’s which is racially homogeneous. The letter requested that MDCR use its resources to urge the district to take affirmative steps to ensure that Brighton students have opportunities to interact with students of diverse backgrounds, and suggested specific strategies for cross-racial learning and curriculum that would provide students with a greater appreciation for the lives, histories, and cultures of communities different from their own.
(ACLU Attorney Mark P. Fancher.)