Black hair stereotype not always racism

2017-07-29 08:36

Almost a year ago, the country was outraged by the school policies of some Pretoria Girls High, that prohibited black girls from wearing their black natural hair.

This drew attention from all walks of life, with politicians such as Gauteng MEC of Education, Panyaza Lesufi, and the then newly elected Tshwane Mayor, Solly Msimanga, visiting the school to #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh. Young teenage girls became overnight struggle heroes in the process.

Again, still almost at the same time, some St Michael's School for Girls in Bloemfontein was battling through similar hair policy. They also had their prescibed "hair neatness" policy, which offended a lot of black parents.

Earlier this month, another private school, Windsor House Academy in Kempton Park, was under fire for sending its school girls home, solely because "their braids were too messy".  As expected, this also outraged both social media and politicians, dubbing it racial attacks on black hair.

Just over a day ago, some Wynberg Boys’ Junior School in Cape Town has also sent a black boy home because of his "unacceptable haircut", and demanded that his parents fix it no later than this monday... effectively giving them a weekend to "rectify the matter".

Again, social media went abuzz, crying racism. Who can blame them? If it looks like racism, smells like racism, it's probably racism. So, twitter might as well go ahead and address it as such.

Coming to thing of it, though. This reminds me of my six-year stay as a medical student in the then Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA). The institution was virtually black, both staff and students. But trust me, this very same weird hair "policy" has always been in force in that institution of higher learning.

Black male medical students, in their clinical years (that is, from fourth to sixth year of study) were not allowed to wear dreadlocks. Whether the policy was written or not, it was a common knowledge that no one would ever graduate MBChB (medical degree) from Medunsa with dreadlocks. [Hello UCT and UP. Were you immune? #WavingFrantically].

This "policy" was reiterated by both black and white professors/ lecturers, of both genders. I've personally never had dreadlocks in my life, but I've witnessed dozens of my former classmates parting with their beloved African hair, merely because medical professors were not ready "to train thugs".

If the stereotypes about hair styles could be left at such high academic levels, orchestrated by super-academics - blacks for that matter, how do we expect to defeat this at the level of basic education?

This does not only happen in white schools (former model C). Similar acts still do happen in many black rural schools, where pupils are made to cut their natural hair (afro), by black teachers, or make it neat (straighten it with chemicals).

While I do not, in any way, seek to dispute the fact that there might be racial conotations behind these haircut policies in private schools, I believe that the stereotype is also perpertuated by us, black people.

While making a presentation to government officials, a former collegue of mine, a male senior black medical doctor, was told by  a black female senior government official, to "take them serious by combing his hair and shaving his beard next time he wants to speak to them". Weird to even know that the very same black senior government official was wearing a weave.

When black folks do this to fellow blacks, we hardly make it news. While it always make headlines if and when tables turn. But I understand... it wouldn't sell, would it?

Indeed, black hair still has a long way to go, and our kids are to bear the brunt.

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