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The Continuation of The Criminalisation of Black Hair

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

With more organisations banging the drum for creating more inclusive workplaces and natural hair trending in the wider fashion industry; how does this fair for the many Black women (and men) wanting to represent themselves how they want?


We cannot still sweep this topic under the rug. Many of those affected, complain of this debate being over policed and rooted in unfounded beliefs, stuck in unconscious bias.


Nonetheless, this debate embodies and represents a continuous, unapologetic black empowerment struggle with corporate leadership across education, the armed forces and corporate organisations to name a few.

“Try to think a little bit more glamour as opposed to natural.” – Tyra Banks, Americas Next Top Model

Race-based hair discrimination has been illegal in the UK since the Equalities Act became law in 2010, but race hair discrimination is a subject that continues to affect countless Black women and girls worldwide.


What’s Going On At School

Irrespective of a child’s performance and behaviour; racial and ethnic disparities in the regressive school’s exclusionary disciplinary policies is still far too familiar. Why? Because this frequently results in more Black children being unjustifiably suspended or expelled from school.


Come on now, it’s not rocket science; cases of black children being punished for their hairstyles has escalated over the years.


Parents who have valid concerns about this issue are consistently side-lined; barely acknowledged and their views redirected to 'attitude' or 'temper tantrums'.


If you didn’t know, then you need to know that this is a classic tactic of gas lighting and using language to discredit and condemn their fears.


Let’s get real, the criminalisation of natural hair starts early.


That’s why it’s important for parents to let their children know their natural hair is normal and they will not be punished or penalised by wearing it this way.


In addition, leaders who consistently hide behind disparate discipline and draconian safety polices to condone their behaviour should be made more accountable.


Take the case of 12 year old Chikayzea Flanders, who was suspended for his hairstyle. However, the school under-estimated the power of family engagement.


His mother campaigned that as a family of Rastafarians, his dreadlocks were part of their culture, identity and religious beliefs.


Supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the school finally admitted that its uniform policy was ‘indirectly discriminating’ and would welcome Chikayzea back to the school if he wished to return.


In another case, maths teacher Charlotte Francis found her daughter kept coming home from school demanding ‘blonde hair’ rather than the natural locs she was born with, she had to take action.


After much investigation and a lack of black dolls on the high street, she was left with no alternative but to manufacture her own and https://www.biankhaandfriends.com/ was born.


“It was important that she could see herself in those dolls and feel a sense of pride and acceptance” she explained. “In addition to this, I wanted her to have a feeling of empowerment and cultural expression, which is why I made her ‘mini’ CEO of the company.


I believed this would raise her self-esteem and provide opportunities to act as a much needed, positive role model for other young girls.”


Supporting Natural Hair In The US Military

Instead of focusing on the increasing levels of misogamy and sexual violations, the discussion on Black hair in the military has long been a contentious issue.


Based on their unsubstantiated ideals and social norms, the armed forces continue to criminalise Black natural hairstyles and enforce racially disproportionate policies which is not only unjustified, but unlawful.


But let’s not get side-tracked by the small wins.


The over use of discretionary suspensions based on natural hairstyles is centred on a very myopic, emotionally charged perspective; often coming from the standpoint of upholding 'standards'.


The countless examples of bias expressed through rules or policies against cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots and other means of wearing hair that do not conform to European standards means legal action and challenges against these institutes.


The narrative around natural hair needs to change. These hairstyles do not reflect less professionalism or commitment to the high standards required by the military. All it does is reinforce a global message of rejection.


The Future For Natural Hair

Natural hair is no prediction of the rising cases of future educational, military or professional misconduct.


This is why we have to bring an end to the discriminatory practices and racially disproportionate policies used against Black people for their hair choices.


Remember, whether it’s in the school, workplace or at home, it would be great to say that Black women (and men) are no longer profiled and punished for this perceived ‘unprofessional’ look, but alas we still have a long way to go.


We hear the cry from organisations that they are prepared to be more transparent and accountable around race and diversity issues but the evidence screams for greater improvement.


Speaking out about black hair issues is still not considered 'in' but if leaders have nothing to fear, let’s get these institutes to commit to valid data collection and the production of an analysis portal which produces greater scrutiny.


Why?

This means we will have measurable results which produce evidence rather than emotionally informed decisions. This will help them to acquire the cultural understanding that enlightens their responses and actions.


On a positive note, consumer goods giant Unilever was one of the first major companies to openly sign up to the Halo Code which aims to eradicate race-based hair discrimination. The code will help to educate teachers and employers about natural Afro hair and normalise protective hairstyles.

‘Members of the Black community can have the "freedom and security to wear all afro-hairstyles without restriction or judgment" – The Halo Code

Finally, Black people should no longer accept race-based hair discrimination but view their own hair and control the narrative around natural Black hair? Or is this too much to ask.


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