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| | |-+  Hair in African Schools.
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Author Topic: Hair in African Schools.  (Read 1730 times)
Mukasa
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« on: October 23, 2018, 05:23:57 AM »

 I grew up in the nineties in a home where all the women straightened or permed their hair to signify their being town people or accomplished. So it was always a competition between the women to see who had the most luxurious free flowing hair. The adult male relatives had moved away from the permed hair or Afro typical of the Pan-Africanist post-independence of the 60s and 70s. I often wonder why this was so. Could it have been a function of proliferation of technologies—the electric shaver that led them to abandon the Afros?

My relationship with my own hair has been that when I was much younger, being that my hair is kinky I always cut it off because firstly, school rules and regulations demanded it; their reasoning being that it was time saving, and secondly because it used to brown at the edges which to my guardians signified poverty and/or the lack of care. Today I realise that I internalised these problematic stances and informed my views on black hair today.

Later on, post-secondary school, away from the clutches of school rules, while the girls braided or plaited  their hair so that it is long enough to straighten it, we the guys let it grow wild. And for me, other than for the excitement of rebellion, it was a celebration that my hair was thick and wild. When it grew some more, it began browning on top. This meant that I had to trim it to maintain its blackness as seen from images from icons such as the Hip Hop musicians like Ludacris.
 
Today, as I've seen elsewhere on this forum, there is preferential treatment to children of rich parents or those that have an 'exoticness' to them, those with Asian straight hair. They are given special permission to keep their hair where every other black student is supposed to keep theirs close shaven! This double standard had always irked me but I never questioned it enough to see the colonial roots of it all.



Fast forward to today, I am a continental East African and teach secondary school in a school that is supposed to run on Islamic principles. The Muslim girls are exhorted by the religious teachers to veil their hair as part of Islamic tradition, yet ironically they are supposed to keep it close shaved. Every now and then, we teachers ask them to remove them to see how short their hair is. I am embarrassed to admit that this isn't good for teaching them bodily autonomy. Relatedly, whenever I meet a student whose hair is browning near the forehead, I have severally reprimanded them for allowing their hair to grow as it doesn't look good and asked them to shave it off!

Recently I had a conversation and subsequently an epiphany about black hair. I was stunned to discover that the school system perpetuates colonial legacies of managing black hair. For if the reason to keep hair short was or is to save time, how come the children of the white colonialists did not cut theirs short? On why black hair isn't manageable, this is a result of imbibing western/colonial beauty standards through media. Our black hair with all its diverse textures is what it is and should be let be.
My role as a teacher in perpetuating these colonial legacies, I find that I should question and work upon by advocating for an administrative rethink of these stances while I have conversations with students about bodily autonomy.

This link was useful in my epiphany.

http://www.africaspeaks.com/reasoning/index.php?topic=8795.msg22593#msg22593
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Nakandi
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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2018, 12:58:07 PM »

Quote
“Today, as I've seen elsewhere on this forum, there is preferential treatment to children of rich parents or those that have an 'exoticness' to them, those with Asian straight hair. They are given special permission to keep their hair where every other black student is supposed to keep theirs close shaven! This double standard had always irked me but I never questioned it enough to see the colonial roots of it all.”

When I attended private school in my country of origin, one was allowed to keep their hair as long as it could all be held in a ponytail/puff - and it had to be styled that way alone. Braids, twists or other African styles were not allowed. White and Indian kids, on the other hand, could have “bobs” and other hairstyles without being required to cut theirs off. I felt like we all had an unspoken understanding that non-African hair, like light skin, was more precious/sacred and that is why we as pupils accepted and never questioned these double standards.

Quote
“Later on, post-secondary school, away from the clutches of school rules, while the girls braided or plaited their hair so that it is long enough to straighten it, we the guys let it grow wild. And for me, other than for the excitement of rebellion, it was a celebration that my hair was thick and wild. When it grew some more, it began browning on top. This meant that I had to trim it to maintain its blackness as seen from images from icons such as the Hip Hop musicians like Ludacris.”

I find that this is a component of the African hair topic rarely discussed as most think it is a female-only issue. However, males are as affected by this as females are. Just like colorism affects males and females, so does featurism. One of the reasons many Africans cannot stand an Afro, regardless of size, or traditional African hairstyles is because they tend to accentuate one’s African features. This goes for males and females alike.

Many societies have accepted that males = short hair and brush off the African male’s religious hair trim as just that. We know though that under white pseudo-supremacy anti-Africanness is always a component. Many Africans, males and females, don’t need school or workplace dress codes to alter their hair. In fact, I would argue the majority don’t. Because of the racial hierarchy, African-American associated features are more desired and accepted than continental ones. Haircut styles being one of them. Native Africans have numerous short hairstyles, but you will rarely see these outside villages. They make one that much more 'continental' looking than the Ludacris/low-top fade/low cut look. African males tend to equally be against their kinky hair as their female counterparts.

Quote
“…it used to brown at the edges which to my guardians signified poverty and/or the lack of care.”

This is indeed one of the many misconceptions of black hair. Some of us have not been around Africans with natural hair long enough and/or continuously to observe its characteristics. I too learned that brown hair on Africans was a sign of illness via way of poverty (kwashiorkor). There was also the added component of what I now recognize as blatant colorism. Brown hair, or hair generally lighter than one's dark complexion, was mostly associated with the Nilotes. Meaning the "wrong" end of the racial spectrum. It was not until my adult years I became aware that African hair varies in texture and color just like other races’. Additionally, it reacts to its environment just like any other type. Including the sun!

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“On why black hair isn't manageable, this is a result of imbibing western/colonial beauty standards through media.”

Yes. People have illogical expectations of their kinky hair. Traditional hairstyles - styles actually adapted to African hair - might take time during the process, but the styles can last a good while and the upkeep is minimal. I do not see how that can be time-consuming and not manageable in the long haul. But if one wants their kinky hair to ‘naturally’ do straight hair things, then of course it is going to be challenging. It is self-explanatory. Also, many think that because ancient Africans had combs, they must have had the same routines we see with Europeans today. When the tightly kinky strands with knots (because that is very much part of the physiology of kinky hair) naturally arrest the brush or the comb, we blame our ignorance on the African genes.

The current natural hair movement is also ironically part of maintaining the myth that African hair is hard to manage and also very time-consuming. A huge part of the movement, particularly the kinky/type 4 chapter, is about “curl defining”. In other words, how to naturally hide one’s kink to achieve the "good hair" look. Since these are very temporary styles, one needs to do the time and money consuming process quite often.

About administrative changes. Anti-colonial fights aren’t synonymous with pro-Africaness. Examining attitudes should be at the centre of those fights. For instance, for a materially rich family, and a very westernised family, the interests of dealing away with colonial dress codes might have nothing to do with fighting racism. Hair is another outlet to flaunt one’s wealth. It is also another outlet to ‘dilute’ one’s Africaness. Thus, wealthy parents might support the idea of moving away from colonial dress codes only to have African kids with white-like hairstyles. Be it long straightened hair or extensions in the form of braids. Rarely will you see a parent chose an afro for their child (or themselves). They want kids with Western English accents with flowing hair. They want kids with acquired whiteness.

A poor family might not be too bothered with the idea of keeping hair short and this needn't be pro-colonialism/whiteness.  Short hair can indeed be both economic and time effective, making it an attractive cheap alternative.

Regardless of the hairstyle one chooses for themselves or forces onto children, I think the real root of this all too common attitude needs to be addressed;
Quote
“…whenever I meet a student whose hair is browning near the forehead, I have severally reprimanded them for allowing their hair to grow as it doesn't look good and asked them to shave it off!”
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