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
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?
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:
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
Men in high places across the region have advice for schoolgirls.
Girls are either raping themselves, lying about rape, dressing immorally or failing to parang responsibly.
The AG conveniently did not mention what, if anything, the government planned to do to address rape, since by his own analysis it is a fact of life.
Research from the UK has demonstrated that rape of the most vulnerable women has been effectively decriminalised where 2 of every 3 rape allegations are not pursued beyond the investigation stage. In other words two thirds of rape allegations do not make it to trial. Researcher Betsy Stanko identifies the following attributes which result in the likelihood that a reported rape will not make it to trial:
1) The victim has a history of mental illness
2) The victim is or was in a relationship with her attacker
3) The victim has a learning disability
4) The victim consumed drugs or alcohol prior to the attack
She notes that “80 per cent of people reporting rape to the Metropolitan Police are considered vulnerable to sexual attack for one of a range of reasons – including being under 18, having mental health issues or learning disabilities, having drunk alcohol or taken drugs prior to the attack and being in an intimate relationship with the suspect.”
She concludes that rather that seeing these women and girls as unreliable witnesses, police investigators need to take a person’s vulnerability as evidence that they are more likely to be raped and investigate whether that vulnerability was exploited by the suspect.
In the Caribbean we know that rates of investigation, trial and conviction in cases of rape and sexual assault are extremely low. In other words, rapists can expect to get away with rape:
As of September, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) had revealed that there were a total of 140 reported cases of rape – about one case every two days. This is a reduction when compared with the 2013 figure of 179 between January to July.
[…] The Attorney General had also pointed out the blaring fact that in the years 2012 and 2013, only 22 cases had enough evidence to go to court and none resulted in a conviction, even with the Sexual Offences Act being completed in 2012. The Guyana Human Rights Authority had done a study in 2005 titled “Without Conviction: Sexual Violence Cases in The Guyana Justice Process”, which revealed that Guyana only reached an average conviction rate of 1.4 per cent in rape cases, indicating that not much has changed since then.
This year it was reported that Guyana did not have enough rape kits. In other cases rape did not even get investigated until women took to the streets in protest.
MESA is currently arguing that while they support sexual harassment legislation such legislation should include stiff penalties for women and girls who allege sexual harassment but eventually discontinue or fail to give evidence in the case.
In the Caribbean, a girl who is raped at age 12 can expect to see her case come to court when she is 20, that is, if the social stigma, family and community pressure have not already forced her and her family to discontinue the case. (Should the state not be able to bring these cases forward regardless of whether or not witnesses or families co-operate?)
To argue that legislation should deter women and girls from reporting crimes against them is not in men’s interest. It is in the interest of rapists.
Rape is a fact of life.
And so is getting away with rape.
We are left with empty advice. Rapists’ interests confused as men’s interests. A relentless culture of misogyny that is literally costing us our lives.
We are not going to take this! We are tired of paper rights. We are tired of being abused, violated and not being able to get justice. We are tired of lack of services, means to access services and poor services because money and resources are not given to improve such services. We are tired of being treated as third class citizens. We are tired of being ignored as our lives and the lives of our families grow more and more dangerous from all forms of violence including sexual violence. We are most of all tired of the hypocrisy, deception, lies, corruption, ignorance and ‘eye pass’. We are sick and tired of the wasteful and empty consultations and empty promises. We know the truth, and the truth is: in this dear land of Guyana, women and children pass for grass.
Well no more! We are not prepared to accept that there is no money for comprehensively addressing the scourge of sexual violence.
We have had enough and are prepared to fight for the world we want.
These young people have shared their stories with us. We have a responsibility to respect these stories, to receive them with gratitude for they are an example of fierce generosity, to treat them with tenderness and compassion because learning to trust your own consciousness is to live life radically on your own terms.
Check out these three online Caribbean media sources that have us excited about new ways of telling Caribbean stories!
Brilliant, fresh and socially engaged. Antillean Media Group has been in town for a long time and remain as relevant, creative and cutting edge as ever.
Describing itself as a celebration of millennial Caribbean voices, this is definitely a space to watch! So far we’re loving the outlets for creative writing and reflection.
With over 30 Caribbean feminist and social justice bloggers in its network there’s something at the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network website for everyone who’s passionate about the future of our region.
Leave us a comment and share any fresh Caribbean new media projects we need to know about!