Good hair, no Becky

The group of black high school girls in Pretoria who came together to protest their school’s code of conduct that instructs them to chemically straighten their hair have lifted the lid on the far-reaching effects of institutionalised racism that persists within our schools and  within our curricula.

I can never say I understand how black women feel about their hair, I do not live that reality. I can only speak from what I’ve observed. When I was in high school, black boys were always told to keep their hair to a certain length or to shave it off completely. These “styles” were deemed “neater”.

After the Pretoria High School for Girls protest, I realise that another aspect of the narrative of institutionalised racism is the stifling of black expression in its natural, untainted form. The system in which black people exist aims to rob us of a self-actualised identity. The continual oppression of black people comes from many areas: economic disenfranchisement, cultural appropriation and erased histories.

Since the world functions on the disillusioned system that “white is right, black is whack”, we’re forced to make our black bodies less black, to conform aesthetically to whiteness. This is why natural hair is considered “dirty” and “unruly”. This is why young black girls are expected to straighten their hair – straight hair is less of a threat to whiteness.

Black people are also not entirely innocent in this whole system. We, within our own communities, attach this unfounded importance to hair that ultimately is seen as definitive of a human being. In our own black homes, we are told to cut our hair and, like how my aunt once told my female dreadlocked cousin, that “you would look better if you relaxed your hair”. Black people have been programmed by the white standards of colonialism and beauty to an extent that we unknowingly perpetuate those standards in our own homes. We have also been part of this problem, by not calling out a system that keeps telling us to hate ourselves and all the facets of our blackness.

One thing is for sure, hair is important in black culture. Early African civilisations used hair to show a person’s family background, tribe and social status. In the American civil rights movement, hair was used as symbol of rebellion and resistance. Some groups believed that hair was a conduit for spiritual interaction with God. Throughout history, black hair has evolved and morphed to be a representation of many things and even in 2016, it remains a topic of discussion for being one of the sure-fire ways blackness can be expressed.

But remember this, whatever style you choose, you are not your hair.


OPINION: Being blonde isn’t just a genetic trait – it’s a state of mind

Without a doubt, the number of blonde coloured braids and extensions has increased this semester at Wits.

So with such an ostentatious trend, it’s hard not to take note or have an opinion on the matter. I don’t have a problem with people voicing their views but I can’t help but get frustrated when I hear this-“it is sad how many black girls are trying to be white with their blonde hair”. I find this such an archaic and banal way of thinking especially when thrown around by students.

When I see blonde on an African girl, I see confidence and courage, because I think it’s safe to admit, dyeing African hair blonde or having blonde extensions is a risky move that has the potential to go horrifically wrong. So when a select few view blonde extensions as “conformity to western ideals” and a “loss of culture”, I am completely dumbfounded. [pullquote align=”right”]”Breaking free from the shackles of generic racial constructs and stereotypes”[/pullquote]

Everyone should be allowed the freedom to express themselves and not have to be subjected to other people’s insecurities of their ethnicity. I treat my hair as an extension of my character and personality and NOT as a tribute to my heritage. One day I might be rocking long Caribbean style braids (even tho I do not come from a line of Caribbean descendants) and the next day I might be showing off an untamed (but racially appropriate) afro.

A person’s hair choice should not be turned into a heated cultural debate, it’s just hair. To me blonde on an African girl is not an “adoption” of a biological trait but an acceptance of ones individuality; It takes courage to break the mould of what is accepted and to be free. Being “Blonde” isn’t just genetic; It’s a state of mind … it’s breaking free from the shackles of generic racial constructs and stereotypes.