If you’ve spent any time on social media this week, you’re aware of the debate around Black girls’ hair happening at Pretoria High School for Girls. Pretoria High School for Girls. I’ve seen some very problematic and frankly racist comments and questions (mostly) from white people, so I’ve compiled this quick and dirty FAQ guide.
Please note: I’m a white girl with easily managed white girl hair. As such I cannot speak to the lived experiences of Black woman, and my intention is not to speak on anyone’s behalf.
“Children are dying in Syria and you’re protesting about hair rules.”
1. Humans are capable of caring about more than one thing at the same time.
2. Unless you’re agitating for the rights of children in Aleppo, this really isn’t a fair objection.
3. These young girls are standing up for their rights in a situation that directly affects them every day. They can’t do much about Syria, but they can do something about this.
4. Just because there are big problems doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to fix the (supposedly) small problems.
5. Resorting to whataboutery is a lazy tactic. If you genuinely want to have a debate, do better than trying to derail the conversation.
“Why are you making such a big deal about hair?”
It’s not just about hair, or rules, or Pretoria Girls. It’s about the very particular attitude towards Black womxn’s hair in a society that has always valued Western beauty norms and told Black people that they are ugly and inferior for not conforming to those norms.
“When you’re at school, your hair should be neat.”
1. Why do you assume that Black hair in its natural state is untidy? In a country that is 80% Black, there is no reason why the (arbitrary) Western standard of neatness should apply across the board.
2. When you say it’s about being neat, you’re saying that Black hair must be tamed. Often, this involves the use of chemical relaxers, which is not only painful but severely damages the hair.
3. Even when hairstyles like cornrows and dreadlocks are allowed, they are usually subjected to arbitrary standards, such as the cornrows running in one direction (no patterns) or the locs having to be a certain diameter. There is absolutely no logical reason why one should be more “neat” than the other.
4. Even as adults in the workplace, Black womxn still get told that afros and dreadlocks are “unprofessional”. It doesn’t just happen at school.
“Teenagers are always pushing boundaries.”
We’re not talking about kids asking to be allowed tattoos and painted nails. They want to be able to wear their hair in a style that is comfortable, natural, and has cultural significance.
“When I was at school I couldn’t wear my hair the way I wanted to either. I had to abide by the rules.”
Yes, but the rules were made to suit your hair. They might have been annoying, but they didn’t inconvenience you or make you feel inferior.
“These kids should stop talking about their hair and focus on learning.”
Schools that send children home or don’t allow them to write exams because of their hair are the ones interrupting their learning.
“Why are you making this about race?”
1. Because it is. Finish and klaar.
2. It’s not just about what is set down in the rules. It’s about Black children being told by fellow students (and teachers!) that their hair is dirty, that they stink. It’s infringing on children’s rights.
3. Often, hairstyles worn by Black people have religious or cultural significance (I don’t just mean having dreads as a Rastafarian, although there’s nothing wrong with that). Ignoring that is racist. As iconic as the Rachel might have been, white people’s hair generally does not carry the same meaning.
“What next? Are we just going to allow children to do whatever they want?”
This is a ridiculous assumption.
“How are the children sitting behind that huge afro going to see the teacher or the board?”
Again, this argument is irrelevant. There are tall kids and short kids. Some children literally have bigger heads than others. Some kids have to sit in the front row because of visual or hearing impairments. Everyone will see the board.
Children should not have to suffer simply because of how their hair grows out of their scalp.