Black Students in South Africa Threatened with Suspension for Their Natural Hair

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This is the man who threatened to arrest little girls #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh

— blackgirlsuperhero (@noirpaz) August 28, 2016

Black students at the Pretoria Girls School in South Africa are protesting a racist school hair policy that says their natural hair is messy or unprofessional or inappropriate for a classroom. The way they have come together to organize and protest is impressive, but it’s hard to believe that it’s 2016 and young black women are still being told to straighten their hair because its natural state is somehow unacceptable.

(Related: Kindergarten Sends Black 5-Year-Old Home Over ‘Distracting’ Haircut That His Classmates Also Have)

In Jane Eyre the headmaster of Jane’s terrible school sees a little girl with curly hair and is furious, insisting that curls are vain and immodest. When the nuns try to explain that the girl’s hair curls naturally, he insists that if her hair curls naturally it means she sins naturally, and orders all her hair to be cut off so that she’ll be modest and presentable. Jane Eyre was written in 1847, and that character’s behavior was supposed to be horrible and irrational then. And yet somehow in 2016 girls are being told their curls are unpresentable, and it’s a lot worse because it’s only the black students being told that their natural hair is unacceptable. A school policy that targets or penalizes black students’ hair is racist and unfair. 

According to the BBC, students at Pretoria Girls School say they’ve been banned from wearing their hair in Afros and that the school has even told them to straighten their hair. Students say they’ve been ordered to straighten their hair to conform to the school’s code of conduct, and that they’ve been accused of “conspiring” when standing in groups.

“The system does not allow for black girls to have Afros,” said former Pretoria student Tiisetso Phetla, according to The Cut. “It wasn’t written in the code of conduct, but they tell you that your hair is very untidy and it’s not appropriate with the school uniform — you must flatten it somehow, and you need to make yourself look presentable.” 

One girl was reportedly in the middle of a speech in class about employment in South Africa before and after apartheid, when she was told to stop talking and sent to the headmaster’s office, where she was threatened with suspension because of her hair.

Curly hair isn’t messy, and it wasn’t in her face. If the school’s focus is education, it makes no sense to stop a class and suspend a student from school because of her hair. The focus isn’t the education, it’s the hair. South Africa Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa spoke out on Twitter in support of the students protesting at school.

The minister also objected to the school’s policy of banning students from speaking their own African languages to each other in the hallways at school.