Why did I pick this track…? “Don’t touch my hair”. It speaks to everything I’m trying to convey in this piece
The other day, I was thinking about one of my previous posts ‘How my hair impacts how I take care of my daughters’ hair’ In which I reflected upon what I had experienced and remembered about afro hair while growing up. The fact that afro/black hair always looked good, never uncombed or unkempt. I wanted to highlight a couple of things. There’s a difference between an afro and unkempt hair. Another thing I’d like to acknowledge is our hair, as I like to describe it, is a ‘mass of hair’, it grows out not down so essentially afros are tidy in as much as straight hair lying flat is tidy. An afro is just letting your natural hair grow and ‘be’ as is. I never left the house in an afro as a kid with natural hair, I always had my hair in protective styles. As we know certain hair types or textures require protective styles, if you leave it out too long it gets tangled and becomes a mass of utter chaos and some people would rather not deal with that which is fine (My mum was one of them). Aside that, being of Nigerian descent/heritage I grew up with a hair culture of having ones hair in corn rows, braids or other protective styles. This is just something that was, no explanation.
Having said that, you can understand my dismay this morning when I woke up and listened to my flash briefing and lo and behold there was a story about a young girl named Ruby, who had received a £8,500 payout for being repeatedly sent home because of her hair. Now this is not the first time something like this has happened, but it is the first time since I started my blog so of course I’m going to discuss it. £8,500 for being discriminated against, hmmm… ok fine let’s even overlook that, she got a payout (should have been more, but fine). My thing is, why did it even have to get to that? What was so wrong about her having her hair in an afro and going to school that she had to be sent home even during her exam period? Why did that child have to be thinking about whether or not she was going to be sent home because of her hair. What is that? She pointed out that “This is how her hair grows” her hair grows out it does not grow down. So all the other kids who have their hair growing down, that’s fine but black kids having their hair growing out are being penalised for something that is beyond their control?
The school stated her hair was distracting to the pupils and obstructed their view of the blackboard (I wonder if anyone actually complained) Why not implement hair etiquette across the board ie. Long hair must be worn in ponytail, plaits, canerows or braids which would be better than siglining out afro hair. Instead they have a policy that states “afro style hair must be of reasonable size and length".
Ruby started to develop signs of depression, whilst also feeling anxious about going to school because of the fear that she would be singled out in front of her classmates.
Worst part of all of this is the school is adamant they did nothing wrong ‘hold on a second’ / ‘pause’/ ‘excuse me?’ The brazen denial of mea culpa shows humongous impropriety and speaks to the disrespect shown to people of colour, women in particular when it comes to hair. In effect the payout did not come from ‘The Urswick School’, instead it was the London Diocesan Board for Schools who made the offer directly to Ruby's family.
By the way, the school who admitted no wrongdoing have since removed their afro hair policy from their website, hmmmm….
There is a plethora of similar stories floating around eg.
In 2013 a 12 year old girl as given a week to decide whether she would straighten her hair natural hair, cut it or leave the school, as her hair was a ‘distraction’.
In 2016 students at the Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa were told to "fix" (Relax) their hair if they were wearing it in its natural state.
We have been judged by our hair, penalised because of it. Even when the media becomes eager to have a black woman on the cover of magazines, in order to follow a trend or to be seen as progressive, we still find our hair being deemed ‘not beautiful’ which is made evident when they start to do things like airbrush out afro hair. Lupita Nyongo and Solange Knowles both experienced this.
In 2017 Solange, was featured on the cover of the British publication ‘Evening Standard magazine’ where she discussed her upcoming album, as well as the cultural significance/legacy for black women of braiding their hair. She had styled her hair into a crown of braids to emphasize or shine a light on this topic. If they had paid any attention to her interview instead of being otherwise preoccupied with what I can only assume to be the prospect/issue of readers wanting to see Solange on the cover. Not thinking that said readers probably are interested in what she had to say which was tied into the statement she was making with her hair, they would have realised airbrushing out the crown of braids atop her head was maybe not the best idea.
With Lupita it was worse. I say that because, Lupitas hair was not in a crown, she was not making a bold statement she just wore her hair as is. Guess what, that wasn’t beautiful to ‘Grazia UK’.
In both cases the hair had to be smoothed and non ethnic. You can’t see a hint of their natural hair. How on earth is that appropriate? How can you alter an image without consent.
Neither of these queens kept silent in the face of this blatantly disrespectful lapse in judgement on the part of the publications. They both took to social media slamming the respective publications. Solange with a simple yet direct ‘dtmh’ (abbreviation for ‘don’t touch my hair) and Lupita with a heartfelt statement expressing her disappointment.
Exposure and understanding is key to making natural hair not just acceptable but desirable. We need to continue to show off it’s beauty. Keep waving it in the medias faces till they are no longer able to deny it’s beauty.
The discussion with women in society today is not even just about our natural hair, we are also fighting for the right to be equal as women. The right to equal pay, the right to decide what we do with our bodies, the right to be seen as equals, to be respected. How much fighting do we have to do in order to be seen and heard? To be included and not singled out or overlooked.