My encounter with biased and intolerant hair rules was in a primary boarding school. Apart from the heavy punishment and cane-loving teachers, the hair rules made school life unbearable. I remember the first intake of class 5 students in 2007. I had my full head of hair and a metallic trunk of shopping backed up with a smile on my face. The school management had specified that hair should be STRAIGHT and NEAT. Plus, hair extensions were a strict NO.
Few months down the line, a new rule cropped up and changed everything. The head mistress announced-in an early morning parade- that the next school term we’ll be required to report back bald. Then, she went on to explain why this rule is for our own good. First and foremost, she noticed that we (young girls from age 6-11) were taking too long to get ready for the 4am preps (she didn’t even consider we the icy baths and the possibility young kids may be generally slow). Secondly, 90% of our hair was NAPPY and SHAGGY. Thus, making us look more like street kids than decent girls.
The nail to the coffin was her point on equality. In order to keep jealousy and envy at bay, every head in school should be uniform. And this ‘equality rule’ commanded every pupil to throw away perfume, lotions, powder, fabric softeners, and antiperspirants (Basically, we were thrown back to medieval times of petroleum jelly and natural body smell).
Ladies and gentlemen, youth and the aged, that is how my 4 years of forced baldness began at the age of 9.
This story is one among many. I was lucky enough to cross the fence and study in a high school where hair was a non-issue. Unfortunately, few students are lucky to join such ‘hair-embracing’ schools.
ALLEGED REASONS WHY LOCAL SCHOOL FORCE SUCH BACKWARD HAIR RULES ON STUDENTS
• Religion: Some religious owned schools feel that long hair cultivates pride among female students and takes away focus from their male counterparts.
• Equality: Everyone should be bald so that every head in the parade shines with consistency, and no student feels inadequate or proud because of hair.
• Punishment: Some barbaric schools cut female hair as a form of discipline when their grades drop.
• Concentration: Many schools use this as a crutch to their lame rules. They argue that females with long hair spend more time in the mirror than in books. Really?
• Narrow-mindedness & Colonialistic views: It’s not a shock that school management view African hair as NAPPY, SHAGGY, HARD TO MANAGE, and overall UNPRESENTABLE.
On the other hand, several schools that accept African hair do not want it natural. Your child will either flat iron, perm/chemical, or cut it shot. Any hair that does not fit the straight and flat category is quickly cast out from view. Similarly, other East African schools have taken a rather clever strategy to enforce uniformity. That is braid and twist extensions. These schools allow their students to wear twists and braids for neatness and management. At the same time, students have the freedom to shave and keep short hair. However, some educational institutes do not condone locs. They associate locs with drug abuse (mostly marijuana), lewdness, low hygiene, rebelliousness, and gang affiliation.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY FORWARD?
Our identity as East Africans not only lies on sharp minds and creativity. We discover the true nature of being African by accepting who and what we are. You can’t train an African child to accept straight silky hair, and then tell them to love dark skin and their country of origin. Nope, it does not work that way. Acceptance is wholesome. Schools should allow children to have their hair the way it grows whether kinky or curly. Instead of forcing students to shave, schools should take a much simpler but gender inclusive solutions. Management should at least allow students to:
• Braid their hair uniformly in protective and school worthy styles like plain cornrows, box braids, and twists.
• Keep their locs whether it is a form of religion (Rastafarians) or not
• Cover their hair in line with their religion (Muslims, Korinos, Hindu, Lejo Mariah)
• Shave their heads if they want to
• Wear their natural hair in neat styles
By allowing student to embrace who they are, you prepare them to face the real world once they enrol in university or working environment. There is no way one child can be equal to another. Not in education, wealth, status, relationship, career, progress, or even achievements. Let our children know their hair is perfect the way it grows, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing it out without extensions or straightening. Bottom line is all AFRICAN schools should ABOLISH their BIASED, INCORRECT, BACKWARD, COLONIALISTIC, RACIST, AND SELF-LOATHING RULES against kinky hair.