Don't know if anyone caught this story that slipped through the news cycle recently..
I happened upon the article in USA Today. Right above the splashy advertisement for Toenail Clippers For Seniors was this small story about a secretary at a Nebraska public school who was checking students for lice. The story caught my eye because of the first episode of our first season being about lice! Also the students were Native American, and the episode that we are currently producing (to be aired later this season) is about a deep connection Jonathan formed with a tribe in California after collaborating with them on a show. These two points of interest converged when I spotted this article, which I will share here as a stunning exhibit of lizard brain in action.
Who knows if the secretary was rushed, distracted by the million other things on her desk, or so anxious to have the lice check finished..? Perhaps we should give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she wasn't an obsessively racist individual. Evidently other parents felt she had a "good heart". But something about checking the heads of two Lakota girls for lice clearly made her feel threatened, because in this moment she was not thinking with her "good heart". She was using the least evolved part of her brain, the fight-flight-freeze-or-fornicate part, also called Lizard Brain. Her ignorance and implicit bias shone like a beacon when she reportedly told the girls' mothers that "You don't get lice if you have clean hair." Notably NO LICE was found on the girls. If only the Lizard Lady had listened to Episode One of Looking In Breathing Out she'd know how wrong that thinking is.
So she was essentially calling them unclean, which is ironic coming from a lizard, but what this Nebraska school secretary is currently facing legal problems over is the fact that she actually cut the kids' hair. Bizarrely this was explained away by the school's administration as a common practice. They said “...the School District would sometimes cut a single strand of hair that contained the louse and tape it to a piece of paper to show the family.” What? If this came home one day with one of my children, I would literally scream!!! Ew--and also how dare they cut off a piece of my child without asking! But again, please note that NO LICE was actually found on these particular children. And somehow their hair was cut anyway. After their moms made some entirely justified noise about this, the school returned one strand of hair to the family, implying that more than a single strand had been cut.
But as appalling as this is to me, I am not Lakota. For these mothers, this was devastating. To their people, hair is sacred and cutting it outside the Lakota tradition carries consequences. “Happiness, the goodness, the wellness of life, it takes all that away,” one mom describes. “We, as Native Americans, look at our hair strongly. Because it comes from the spirit world, and it was given to us.” Not only is it not in any way Lizard Lady's place to cut a child's hair, AND the school failed to take responsibility for the act, primarily it is against these families' deeply held cultural beliefs. ALSO it brings up bad memories. Of course this was not the first act of degradation perpetrated against young Lakotas in school settings. In 1819, the US signed the Civilization Fund Act, which is a real nice name for an era in which boarding schools nationwide separated Native children from their families. These schools would notoriously shear the hair of Native children, in a blatant and unconscionable effort to "kill the Indian" in them. I honestly had never heard of this until we watched the Anne of Green Gables series on Netflix recently. And unfortunately in the show, that storyline never did quite resolve. Maybe because it is obviously an issue that remains raw, unfinished and still very much within the cultural memory of Native people:
“I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly,” Zitkála-Šá, an 8-year-old girl who was taken from her mother wrote in 1900 of her hair cutting at a boarding school. “In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair. I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit...now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”
Why is evolution so slow? Naturally this contemporary Nebraska school maintains perfect innocence and sees no connection to the past. How likely is it that, when lizard brains are creating curriculums, they teach about Zitkála-Šá and how the realities of what happened in the past are still with us? This is a teaching moment! Will they take it? The Lakota mothers, for their part, say: “We just want people to understand that you cannot touch another person's child. Every religion has beliefs. Every culture has beliefs. We have rules that we live by. And I want people to know that.”