Las Vegas, NV — A group of student activists at West Orange High School in West Orange, New Jersey, recently staged a protest against the school's policy prohibiting the wearing of durags.
While this policy has always been in place, but largely unenforced, the school recently started heavily enforcing the rule, as more students are coming back to school after COVID-19 restrictions have loosened.
“They were kind of light on it, as the year progressed, they wanted to crack down on it,” said senior Bahram Mehretu, who was one of the organizers of the demonstration.
“The reason they gave that pissed-off students was that wearing a durag in an outside setting including a school was deemed unprofessional. That’s what had us angry on top of a lot of faculty members saying that it might have been a safety threat,” said the 18-year-old.
Hayden Moore, the principal of West Orange, said in a statement prior to the protest, “We are a proudly diverse and inclusive community, we lean forward into every opportunity to embrace our differences and provide dignity and decency for all, and we value all community members and gladly listen to the chorus of differing opinions.”
Mehretu, who runs the schools Unity Club and is also a part of the schools Black Student Union, said that West Orange is a lot more liberal compared to other schools.
“I thank the school for everything they provided us. They actually listen to the students” said Mehretu, “They’ve been understanding and they've been very relaxed with a lot of things. It’s just that when it comes to durags, that’s the one policy that I would like to say they really messed up on, because they start to criminalize our culture, Black culture.
“They have a functional use so you can wear them indoors and even prior to the 90s when durags started to get popular. In the 19th century there were Ethiopians, kings, soldiers wearing durags you actually have photographic evidence of that” Mehretu added.
The school has no plans on changing the policy for the remainder of the school year. Surveys will be put out for a possible policy change for the next school year.
Mehretu described his most recent meeting with the administration as “somewhat productive.”
“They’ve promised us that they are going to start moving away from handing out detentions and putting it on students' records for wearing durags. They are going to move forward to confiscation for first time offenders or very few offenses compared to straight up detention … but still I don’t think that’s enough of a change so we are still going to keep in touch with the administration and make them see it our way,” said Mehretu.