willed our skins pale
muffled our laughter
lowered our voices
let out our hems
dekinked our hair
denied our sex in gym tunics and bloomers
harnessed our voices to madrigals
and genteel airs
yoked our minds to declensions in Latin
and the language of Shakespeare
Told us nothing about our selves
There was nothing at all
From Colonial Girls’ School by Olive Senior
Even a dog’s hair must be groomed (facebook comment).
We black people using this black roots as an excuse to walk about the people place like you have no owner or sense and quite often looking quite stupid all in the name of trying to get back to your roots. Why we black people feel that unless you looking untidy and foolish you acting white (facebook comment).
Look how quick them could come up with a petition about a few knotty children that won’t comb their picky head (facebook comment).
locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman (Tillah Willah).
The Afro-Trinidadian women in my office tell me that hair is important, having combed hair is important and that this is something black girls learn early, because of the general disparagement of things African and the overwhelming pressure to bleach, straighten, press or cover natural black hair. Having to present as acceptable, decent and civilised is a given because its alternative is to fall to a racist stereotype (Gabrielle Hosein).
It has been reported that the Principal of one of Barbados’ elite secondary schools has banned black girls with hard hair/nappy hair/kinky hair/natural hair from wearing their hair loose i.e. from wearing their hair in the way that it grows out of their heads.
She has declined to speak to the media so we have no idea what her reason for this ban is. The principal has since indicated that while she recognises the beauty of natural hair, all students must be “neat and tidy” when in school uniform.
Some supporters of the ban have claimed that the “twist out” hairstyle is womanish, distracting, inappropriate for school and that it is just one specific style that is banned and not natural hair itself, (but it’s a policy directed exclusively at black natural hair!) Notions of neatness and tidiness are not at all neutral. When it comes to hair, they are often extremely exclusionary with black women and girls expected to engage in massive amounts of grooming just to appear presentable. Not even babies and toddlers are exempt from these standards.
Times change. Some of the natural hairstyles that may now be grudgingly considered appropriate in a professional setting represent a hard-won acceptance. Women have been fired for wearing braids in Barbados. Rastafari have been persecuted across the region with multiple attempts to exclude rastafari boys and girls from school because of their hair. The same way we learnt to accept the “Revlon locs” and the twisted updos, we’ll have to get used to twist outs, wash-and-go, and loose natural hairstyles.
Supporters of the school policy have also claimed that a principal’s powers are absolute. They see the principal as the sole decision-maker and source of authority and argue that students should follow the rules without question. They see this as necessary preparation and discipline needed for the world of work. They see public disagreement with the hair policy as an attempt to discredit the principal because she is a woman leading an elite former boys’ school. They have argued that natural hair can be smelly and unkempt using terms like “bag fuzz”, “rats’ nest” and “matted” to describe loose natural hair. They have argued that natural hair requires special rules.
Long, slurpy stupse.
Elite secondary schools in the region share a history of colonialism, racism, sexism, classism and anti-blackness.
Sometimes teachers think that they are doing students a favour when they socialize them into white supremacy, self-hate and respectability. They believe they are preparing them for the world of work. Preparing them for survival in a globalised world that is anti-black. Making somebody out of them despite their blackness or working class roots or countrified accent. These teachers are in need of consciousness-raising. They need to learn better so that they can do better.
When I was at secondary school I distinctly remember our principal asking all the girls with natural hair to stay behind after assembly for a talk on tidiness and appropriate hairstyles. This is gendered and racialised policing of black girls’ bodies that is usually classist as well. It also communicates just who legitimately is supposed to occupy these elite spaces.
Young-gifted-and-black women wearing their hair as it grows out of their heads exist in all kinds of leadership roles where their intelligence and expertise are acknowledged and rewarded. So aside from how arbitrary, racist, sexist and anti-black these rules are, aside from how emotionally and spiritually damaging this policing of black girls’ bodies is, there is really NO case to be made for socializing black girls into anti-blackness. Black women and girls can and do bring our full selves, our flyness and our talents to all the spaces that we occupy, create and help to shape. Our blackness, our bodies, our sexualities do not need to be mitigated, tamed or policed. We do not need to be infantilized or socialized into white supremacy or black middle-class respectability just because a powerful few have not yet realized that it’s 2015.
It’s 2015. And it’s majority-black Barbados. If black girls can’t wear their hair as it grows out of their heads at this very moment and in this very space, then when and where?
This post is about the larger issues, not just the policies at one school. To read more about that school’s decision visit Loop Barbados. They have also done a follow-up article.
Sign the petition calling for the principal to remove the ban against natural hair. Tell her just how saddened and disappointed we are by her decision. Tell her too that we know she is learning just like all of us. Ask her to open her heart to what we are trying to teach.
The majority of comments I’ve read have expressed disapproval of the ban on the hairstyle. However, many of the people who claim to embrace natural hair only do so if it is processed i.e. plaited, twisted, loced, in an updo, heavily styled etc. What is considered acceptable natural hair is hair which is recently styled or re-loced and which does not appear fuzzy. “Acceptable natural” is not at all a rejection of European standards of what hair looks like but a negotiation with those standards— a move closer to mixed-race curliness as ideal and attenuated blackness as acceptable through conformity to notions of neatness, tidiness and professionalism. So we’re left with the paradox that large numbers of women in Barbados wear their hair natural but this widespread acceptance of natural hair does not extend to kinky, loose hairstyles which are deemed dirty, knotty, wild and unkempt.
This week in St. Lucia a boy was sent home from school because of his hair cut (pictured below). His father asked:
What is wrong with such a short cropped head of hair? We black and mixed black people must shave our heads bald to be accepted?
A word on terminology: some have expressed disapproval with my use of the terms “hard” and “nappy” and have expressed a preference for the term “curly”. In Barbados we talk about “hard hair” to described tightly coiled black hair. Typically hard is not meant as a compliment or a neutral descriptor. What positive or neutral terms do we historically have to describe black hair? Nonetheless, hard is a term I use to describe my own hair. Hard has some positive slang connotations like fly or cool. I’m reclaiming hard as a positive descriptor of black, natural dopeness! I know nappy as a term mostly used in the US, again often in a negative way, but I think the natural hair movement over there has done a lot to reclaim that term (“happy to be nappy”). The kind of black hair that is coming under intense scrutiny is not considered “curly” in the cultural context of Barbados. So even though the hair may be tightly curled or coiled, to use the term curly to describe it would be culturally incorrect. There is also the classification system, invented in the US, which grades hair from 1a to 4c. It’s not a system I use. Black people have been styling their hair for millenia without a need for these classifications. Given the racist history of anthropometry, I don’t see why black women need another racialised classification system to separate us into As and Cs. The term kinky, which means closely or tightly curled, was suggested to me and I’ve edited the post to reflect that.
Learn more about the politics of black hair in the Caribbean at the following links:
Got My Hair Un-did
As a mother of a half-African baby girl, each day I discover how little I know about black hair.
The Black Hair Conundrum
St. Lucian Boy Kicked Out of Class Over Hairstyle
Young Barbadian men excluded from Polytechnic because of locs
Good Hair in St. Vincent and the Grenadines
It’s Just Hair
I’m a twenty-something overachieving chick with dreadlocks and a predilection for wearing Converse to work
Tales of a Caribbean Natural
Tales of a Caribbean Natural: Secondary School Edition
Have you ever blogged about hair politics in the region? Please share your links with us? Are you a black woman with natural hair? Please tell us what terms you use to describe your hair? Have you come across any other Bajan blogs talking about this issue? Please share them with us. Do you disagree with us completely? Tell us in the comments!
image source: http://www.loopbarbados.com