It’s Not “Just Hair.”

By Alexis Ojeda-Brown

This whole movement for natural hair may seem a little extreme to some, especially to those who aren’t Black women. Hair is just hair, right? It’s ridiculous that how your hair naturally grows out of your head affects how society looks at you. There is no way that wearing your hair naturally could prevent you from getting a job or could get you kicked out of your classroom while you’re trying to get an education, right? Well, it’s 2016, and that’s exactly what happens to Black girls all over the globe.

On August 29, students at Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa joined together in protest against their school’s discriminatory— or for a better word “racist”— policies that seemed to target natural hair. Although Pretoria’s General appearance policy doesn’t necessarily say no Afros, the language used is definitely Anti-Afro and Anti-Black Hair.

“All hair must be brushed. If hair is long enough to be tied back, it must be tied back neatly in a ponytail, no lower than the nape of the neck, with a navy blue elastic. Pony tails may not be visible from the front….Hair buns must be tight with no loose hair and have to be worn on the neck, and not on top of the head. The hair may not cover the elastic.”

The policy proceeds to go on about how students are not allowed to shave their heads, and also regulates the type of braids and hair patterns girls are not allowed to have:

“Cornrows, natural dreadlocks and singles/braids (with or without extensions) are allowed, provided they are a maximum of 10 mm in diameter” reads the policy, “Cornrows must run parallel from each other from the forehead to the nape of the neck. No patterned cornrows.”

Not only was the schools general appearance policy discriminatory, the teachers were as well. The school’s policy has been suspended pending an investigation and officials from the Gauteng Department of Education (which oversees the Pretoria High School for Girls) met with some of the students who shared their stories of teachers saying abusive and racist comments towards them concerning their hair—calling them monkeys, and saying their hair looked like a birds nest.

On August 30, the Gauteng Department of Education released a statement that listed the grievances of the students (which there were many) and explained that such discrimination would no longer be tolerated and the School’s policy would be amended.

Pretoria isn’t the only school that has discriminated against Black hairstyles and this “Good Hair” mindset isn’t only in South Africa. In 2014, 12 year-old Vanessa VanDyke was threatened to be expelled from her school, Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, Fl., if she didn’t comply with the schools dress code and cut her hair, which they deemed a “distraction.” A few months before VanDyke’s incident, another girl, seven-year-old Tiana Parker, was sent home from Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa because her dreadlocks violated school policy, which stated that “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Earlier this year, a group of high school girls were suspended from school in Nassau, Bahamas, for wearing their hair natural because it was dubbed “untidy, ungroomed, and unkempt hair.” The list of natural hair discrimination incidents in schools can go on even longer if you want to include discrimination incidents towards Black hair in the workplace, but this article would never end if I listed all of them. All of these incidents serve as a reminder why non-black people wearing black hairstyles is so problematic.

As more Black women speak out against unfair treatment towards their natural hair, the more people are standing in solidarity with Black women and have taken to social media and created movements like #SupportThePuff and #BlackGirlMagic. Even though many companies and institutions are being called out on discriminating against Black women’s hair and many have started revamping their dress codes and policies to be more inclusive, Pretoria is the perfect example that we still have a long ways to go.

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