I’ve been seeing posts all morning about the Protests at Pretoria girls high. They stuck out for me, they moved me, they made me angry, proud, happy all at the same time. I could relate to these girls on so many levels although, somehow, I felt their struggle went deeper than what i had ever gone through. They were carrying more than a few years of High School discrimination on their shoulders.
My husband called me and said “you know you have to write about this…” I thought about it for a while. What would I say? It’s such a heavy, deep subject. I though back to my own time as a school girl. In my post, Confessions of a Natural, I mentioned how,
“Starting school was the worst: my school only allowed us to have our natural hair. Mum’s solution? She would relax my hair during the school holidays (because relaxer was the in thing back then) and cut it again before school started. To cut a long story short (excuse the pun), I never had long hair and I would stare longingly at my friends’ neatly combed out non-kinky afros.”
I’ve been reading all the news and some of the anecdotes are very shocking, One girl said, “I have a natural afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a birds nest,” another said, “Teachers find it disturbing when you speak to your friend in vernacular. They say stop making funny noises or you will have to sit in my office.”
A few years ago, a did some research and something Kobena Mercer said really hit home it made me realise that for the past century, manufacturers have almost only advertised the need to alter black hair.
“The pejorative precision of the salient expression, ‘nigger hair’, neatly spells out how, within racism’s bipolar codification of human value, black people’s hair has been historically devalued as the most visible stigma of blackness, second only to skin.”
I can almost say, without a doubt that, what happens during the formative years of a child, especially a girl child, could make or break her. The media is pregnant with campaigns targeted toward the girl child and how she can be whatever she wants and achieve thing she couldn’t previously imagine. “Be yourself,” “Be strong,” “You are beautiful just as you are” are just some of the messages that are out there.
Seeing the images of the girls, listening to some of the interviews, and reading the news, it is evident to me that we still have a long way to go. As the custodians of these girls future, we need to stop giving them mixed signals. Even more, teachers and school governing bodies need to take a step back and have a good look at policies that previously (and presently) caused rifts, doubts, and pain.
Whether we like it or not, hair has become a racial and a gender issue putting Black females “at the intersection of race and gender, facing a triple threat of racism, sexism, and the combination of the two,” according to Research.
As Columnist and Pretoria High School for Girls alumna, Zama Ndlovu so aptly put it,
“to deny that there are deeply divided views on black hair would be a gross understatement because ‘other women’s hair is referred to as exactly that, hair, mine is “ethnic” hair as if “Caucasian” isn’t an ethnicity.”
What’s really inspiring for me is that even black girls are beginning to realise their worth and, slowly but very surely, a shift is beginning to break through the systems that our predecessors could only think to shake.
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