What’s Wrong With My Afro?

Image: CNN

What’s wrong with my afro?

Why is it that a woman with naturally kinky, tight, coily hair is not readily accepted in the same way one with silky hair is?  Why is it that when a woman decides she is no longer going to chemically straighten her hair people assume it’s a trend, fashion or political statement?
Worldwide black women and black girls continue to battle the war against hair. Why in the 21st century this persists is beyond me, but here we are again as the world watched in late August the schoolgirls in South Africa face police arrests and being kept out of school for simply wanting to wear their natural hair.

Image: newsposts247.com

If you don’t know the story here is a brief summary.  Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa has been recently put in the spotlight because of black girls accusing the school of racists polices. They said the school policies allows the other races to come to school with longer hair, but black girls with their natural afros are told they must cut or tame their hair. Further they say the school wants to force them to chemically relax their hair to make more appropriate and tidy. The hashtag #StopRacismatPretoriaGirlsHigh was trending globally when the protests went viral.  As the young ladies and others shared images and personal stories of what was happening, other black women in places like the U.K., U.S., and Canada stood in support and began sharing their own stories of negative experiences related to hair.

Pretoria Girls High School students protesting.

Since this story gained global attention the school has announced suspending its hair rules and beginning an investigation into the matter.  Guateng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi said, “That there will be no learner that will be victimized purely because of their hairstyle until the School Governing Body have finalized a new code of conduct that deals specifically with this issue.” This is seen as a small victory in the broader scope of what is actually a global problem.

Image: http://www.dailyvoice.co.za

Black women have been forced for so long to conform to western standards of beauty. So much that when they make a choice to grow natural hair or have natural hairstyles, they are sometimes faced with harsh criticism. It shouldn’t even be seen as a political statement or going against standards when an individual decides they want to leave their hair in its natural state. If a woman who is naturally a brunette stops dying her hair blonde and comes to school or work, she’s not reprimanded for it. If a Caucasian woman stops blow drying her curly hair straight she isn’t told she must not allow her natural curls to show by cutting it off or straightening it. So why is it when a black or mixed-race person leaves their afro to grow naturally she can be harshly judged or criticized for doing so?
Have we not advanced far enough in this world to stop making hair such a big issue? It starts so young and even black women themselves are a big problem in judging other women and criticizing those who aren’t quick to make the hair slick and bone straight. I remember how people kept talking about Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy’s hair and recently gymnast Gabriel Douglass facing a twitter-storm about her  so-called “unkempt edges”.

The Pretoria girls aren’t the first to face problems from authority at school because of their hair. There are many who have stories to tell about their own experiences.

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And the those are just a few.

Melba Tolliver, Journalist who defied the norm with her afro.

There’s also women who have lost jobs, don’t get hired or promoted when they choose to wear their hair natural.  In 1971, Journalist Melba Tolliver lost her job working on WABC-TV news because she refused to wear a wig to cover her afro when she reported on Tricia Nixon’s (Richard Nixon’s daughter) wedding at the White House.
[Click links below for more stories on women, jobs and hair]

These are just a few of the countless women who are at risk on the job because of their natural afro textured hair.

Sad, but true.

I have been told that if I wore a long weave or relaxed my hair my career in television media would have progressed much faster. I had a boyfriend in the past who told me to wear straight hair to interviews until I get the job before revealing my natural hair.

For those who don’t understand the history behind why there is such a struggle where hair is concerned, here’s a piece of information that may help you.  When slavery ended in the United States (1865), there were still ways to divide and not accept blacks. Hair became a big role in discriminating against black women. Those who could style their hair in a way similar to a white woman were more accepted.  They even used hair as a way to determine who could enter certain churches and schools. They would do ‘comb’ tests to check for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ hair. Women used hot combs for straightening their hair until Madame C.J. Walker revolutionized the game by inventing the permanent hair relaxer.  Since then black women have relied on it to keep their hair straight. Chris Rock called it the ‘creamy crack’ in his film Good Hair, which examined black hair culture.

In countries like South Africa where racism is still deeply rooted and the after-effects of apartheid still remains, it’s not surprising that the ideals of white standards of beauty still infiltrate society.  Globally the caucasian standard of beauty still prevails. We see it in movies, television and advertising. Although there have been huge strides forward, it only takes incidents like what happened to the Pretoria schoolgirls to remind us that the more things change the more they really haven’t changed enough.


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