Over the last week, South Africa has been in uproar over the protesting of girls from Pretoria Girl’s High after a pupil was barred from writing an exam over her Afro hair.
“I felt ugly. I felt unworthy…” said one alumni, who, since the uncovering of this story, has come forward with many others to speak of their experience at the school. Read the full story here.
Here’s a poem for you:
“A rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet,
Just like hair by any other name, yes hair, wouldn’t be as deep…”
It was a rather bad running joke in my family that if, for some godforsaken reason we would have to go through the pencil test to determine different racial identities (like during Apartheid) we would end up separated.
As a little girl I envied my mother with her silky smooth thread – a product of Cape Malay, Indian, and Japanese descent and a stark contrast to my father’s loose but coarse curls – the same kind that you’d expect to find if you mixed Griwqa, Zulu, Irish, and English all together in a big pot.
I was born with a curly coarse mixture of the two, but still the kinkiest thread in comparison to my sisters.
School was a nightmare. All the other coloured kids that I knew from the neighbourhood had tight, neat, plaits – just like the ones that my granny used to do in my hair when she looked after us. Those same ones that were as close to your forehead as possible; the ones that didn’t allow any space for stray baby hairs in the front. Submission was demanded by baby hairs – beating them into place with a slap of oil and a tough brush that brushed both your forehead and your hair.
Too bad mom couldn’t do what all the neighbourhood kids’ moms could do. Mom couldn’t handle my thick mop, and was clueless when it came to making me look “presentable” for the class. I was the only coloured kid in an all-white pre-primary class, and my dark olive skin earned me the nickname “that Indian girl” without me having to try too hard.
When mom’s lack of knowledge became too embarrassing, and my parents got tired of my tears, dad taught me how to plait my own hair. I can still remember us sitting on the floor, backs against the wall, with Barbie dolls positioned tightly between our thighs… and, when I cried again – because my tresses demanded more than one reinforcement to hold them in place, broke all of the swimming caps I was supposed to wear for squad practices, and damaged my hair so much that I strongly contemplated going “GI Jane” from 5th grade – they bought me a blow dryer to teach myself how to “smoothen” it out.
I left the swimming squad.
And later – a lot later, when I finally stopped burning my scalp with relaxers and fully embraced my natural hair, not even a, “Aren’t you going to do your hair?” said in passing by a high school crush could deter me from my new-found passion – being me, naturally.
I went to the Model C and private schools; I was told to look for a boy with “good hair” so that my children would have “good hair,” and witnessed much of what those Pretoria Girls High girls are experiencing plus more.
Now, rules are rules. We all know that:
Rules are good; order is good…
Rules are comforting and give protection;
Rules, in most cases, enable more than they disable…
The question, in this case, is not whether rules in themselves are good, but whether these specific ones are good, and who exactly they were written for. If a number of parties are being “ruled” then all of those parties should be represented when they were written – without one party feeling the need to conform to the mindset of the “historic oppressor.”
I guess we never really asked questions because we were too scared to. Too scared of our blackness. Too scared of not being cool. Too scared of having it all wrong. Too in awe of whiteness, setting it on a pedestal. Too aware of everything we didn’t have to confront and own what we did. But I am seeing more and more, that these questions need to be asked – and we need answers. Not on behalf of one girl. Although you might only see one girl as the face of “this struggle,” but on behalf of many. All of them. All of them that have now, in their own time and place, had to spend years working on building love for themselves, reworking the conditioning of their primary years.
How do you handle this type of thing as a Christian?
Firstly, it would be good to acknowledge the reality of others, even if it isn’t your own. Sweeping statements like #HumanityNeedsHelp or #TheWholeWorldNeedsHealing doesn’t help anyone get anywhere constructively, or take away any pain for anyone.
By saying these types of things people give all the work to the Jesus in their heads, and forget that there is Jesus revealed in their hands, their feet, and in their mouths if they should choose to act and use them.
I love that straight after the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, where Jesus blesses different types of people individually mentioning their plight (e.g. “the spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek and gentle, and the pure in heart, the persecuted, despised, denigrated” – the black lives? Oops!), he goes on to talk about each one of us having the ability to be both salt and light!
Salt, we know, draws out the flavour of the food, and hopefully, the food is always different – and never the same night after night!
I don’t think it a coincidence that Jesus gives his blessing by naming different people in different situations and then goes on to say that we have the power to bring the flavour of the Kingdom into whatever we might encounter, whatever and wherever the situation is! One is not more important than the other, just different.
There are no wet blanket statements here.
And, that is exactly why I choose the Gospel (good news) over any other religion or faith.
Jesus is personal, and so our response to people’s pain must be a personal one, which, if can’t be understood, must at least be acknowledged and not belittled.
Seriously. That’s good stuff in a world where one of the most often asked questions is, “Am I noticed? Do I have meaning? Does anyone even care about the things I go through?”
Yes, Jesus does, and he even cares about something as seemingly small as … hair.
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