Op-Ed

Why Racist Hair Policies in South African Schools Go Beyond Just Hair

We're faced yet again, with black girl students being discriminated against because of their hair in South Africa.

Just when we thought that the national uproar that ensued after the protests at Pretoria Girls' High School last year was enough to send South African schools running to amend their hair policies, we're faced yet again, with black girl students being discriminated against because of their hair.


Many South Africans have been angered after a group of black girls were expelled from Windsor House Academy, a private school in Johannesburg, last week because their hair, according to the school principal, "looked like they were on school holidays rather than on school premises."

This is a narrative that resonates with me and so many other young black women in this country. When I was in high school, I was not allowed to have an afro or dreadlocks. I was also not allowed to have any hair extensions or even hair moisturizer in my hair. And when I tried to explain how difficult it was to maintain black hair or how damaging the chemical relaxers suggested to me were, I was waved away by a dismissive hand. What was worse was that as a head prefect, I had to order other girls to obey those very same hair policies. It was by far the most oppressive task that I had to carry out and it never really felt as if the issue was limited to just hair—probably because it wasn't.

It goes without saying that these hair policies are racist and the way in which black girl students are 'disciplined' is almost always humiliating and heavy-handed. These hair policies only ever apply to black girl students who are not, might I remind you, arriving at school with rainbow-coloured hair or crazy mohawks but instead with their hair either in their natural form or very often in braids or weaves that are neat, in an appropriate colour and tied up according to the school hair policies. In a country whose constitution espouses the need to embrace diversity, these schools are doing the exact opposite.

Yes, the school environment is not a 'fashion parade' as many argue but the issue is not about black girl students wanting to flout school rules for the sake of looking trendy or fashionable but more about the conversation that schools are never willing to have—the fact that black hair has different maintenance needs to that of say white or coloured students and because of that reality, the hair policies needing to be reflective and accommodating of that.

Now while the Department of Education has responded swiftly and sought to nip this incident in the bud, it is unfortunately very difficult to police private schools and their policies in general because they often see themselves as being above reproach. And given the segregationist history of this country, the majority of private schools are still predominantly white and saddled with attitudes that are fundamentally unbending in terms of fully welcoming and embracing black people. This is where it becomes evident that these policies go beyond just hair. It speaks to the prevailing institutionalized racism that is still firmly entrenched in numerous spaces in this country—schooling structures being no exception. It speaks to why racism seems so much more magnified in universities and workplaces because it is largely ignored at primary and secondary school levels and not aggressively attacked for the societal cancer that it is.

Yes, we need to address these racist hair policies. It is a matter of great urgency. These policies need to not only be amended but perhaps completely re-imagined in a way that seeks to prevent the current humiliation, vilification and oppression of young black students. However, I ardently believe that this re-imagining, if it is to be earnest, can only be done through questioning and challenging the entire ethos of a particular school, its culture and attitudes and having the difficult conversations through the appropriate forums about racism, prejudice and discrimination.

As uncomfortable as these conversations may be, they are necessary. They are not conversations to be tackled only by academics, university students, corporates or politicians, but all of South Africa—high school students and their management included.

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Photo courtesy of Chontudas.

This Black Hairstyle Collective Is Embracing the Beauty of Natural Hair in Colombia

Chontudas wants to strengthen natural hair knowledge among young black girls in Colombia.

In 2012, a champeta duo from Santa Marta, a Caribbean town in Colombia, dedicated their song "Pelo Malo" to all women that have a "bad," "weird" or "disorganized" hair. The song suggested that all these women have to use "liser" – a product to straighten their hair to make it look cool. The song neatly illustrates the stigma of wearing natural hair in Afro-Colombian communities. But these offensive categories don't represent the growing movement of Afro-Colombian women who are embracing their natural hair and all of its beautiful complexity.

During the American Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 60s and 70s, there was a revolt in favor of wearing natural hair. The second wave of the natural hair movement has reached a global audience through social media and Colombia is not an exception. It's been five years since Mallé Beleño, an educator, and other black women created a hair collective called Chontudas—the name refers to a kind of palm tree whose presence evokes the hair of black women. The group was initially founded to discuss how to wear natural black hairstyles as well as to spread ancestral traditional hair knowledge.

This collective came to life as a Facebook group with 70 black women in 2014. Since then, it has become a place to share the experiences of making the transition to natural hair, and a place to showcase a more diverse standard of beauty as well as a place to trade hair care advice.

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Photo still via YouTube.

This Dominican Ministry of Education Director Was Fired Hours After Her PSA Promoting Natural Hair Was Released

Marianela Pinales' dismissal from her position the same day the motivational campaign was released raises questions on the true motive behind the ministry's decision.

It pays to encourage every young, impressionable black child to accept themselves for who they are—even when it comes down to loving their natural hair.

Marianela Pinales did so through a new campaign she helmed on behalf of the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Education, entitled 'Ni Pelo Bueno, Ni Pelo Malo,' which translates to 'No Good Hair, No Bad Hair,' Latino Rebels reports.

The PSA celebrates all hair textures in an effort to counter the stigmatization of black hair people face in the Dominican Republic. In the video, you'll see young students with diverse, gorgeous hair stand firm in what's theirs. "Vive tu vida, y suelta mi cabello en banda (live your live and leave my hair alone)" one young girl says in the video.

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Shirazee. Photo: Tiara Marei. Courtesy of the artist.

Get Into Shirazee & Saint Jhn's Highly-Addictive 'Juju'

The new music video follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans.

Shirazee is back with his latest single "Juju."

The new song sees the Benin-born singer-songwriter linking up with none-other-than Saint Jhn for a highly-addictive tune built on afro-fusion beat work. The striking new music video for "Juju," which was directed by Tiara Marei, follows Shirazee and Saint Jhn to New Orleans, Louisiana.

"This one is special to me 'cause the song was recorded at a time I needed to break a love-spell that I felt was put on me by a serious crush of mine [laughs]," Shirazee tells OkayAfrica. "Shooting this video in New Orleans, a city with historical ties to my Benin, was such a privilege and does so much justice to the song and theme.

"[I'm] looking forward to releasing new music this year and the first of two EPs called LOST is on the way and it's exciting," he adds.

For more on him, revisit our interview with Shirazee on his journey, taking risks and going independent. As you remember, Saint Jhn featured on Beyoncé and Wizkid's "Brown Skin Girl," one of our favorite songs last year.

Get into Shirazee and Saint Jhn's "Juju" below.

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'Namaste Wahala' movie poster.

'Namaste Wahala' Is the Nollywood Meets Bollywood Crossover We've All Been Waiting For

The Nigerian-Indian wedding romcom of our dreams is coming our way this April!

It's no secret that Nigerians and Indians have one major thing in common: over the top weddings. The two cultures are basically neck-in-neck when it comes to beautiful, extravagant (emphasis on the 'extra') weddings, which is why many of us have often fantasized about attending a joint Nigerian-Indian wedding. The good news is that an upcoming romantic comedy, starring some of Nollywood and Bollywood's best, is here to indulge us.

Namaste Wahala is the film debut of Indian businesswoman turned filmmaker Hamisha Daryani Ahuja. She released the first poster for the movie on Tuesday, showing a young couple in elaborate wedding regalia, and it's been met with humor and excitement from people online.

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