“Kingston College High School students in Jamaica are sent home, on an exam day, for wearing fades and mohawks. Black girls in the Bahamas are sent home for Twist Outs. Black girls in Barbados are sent home for Afros; And Bantu Knots (Chiney Bumps) are deemed inappropriate for school. Some may say that the students are at fault. They know the school rule and should have, therefore, adhered to it. After all, as one teacher puts it, “school rule is school rule. Abide or get out!” But I’ll address that later. For now, I have a deeper concern.
Responding to accusation that the school is lenient with students of Indian and Chinese orientation, the Kingston College Principal said,” students expect them to bald their head like mine but it can’t be that the same rule applies for obvious reason. We have to use our discretion.” It is more worrying than hypocritical that the same authority that sees it fit to suspend black boys for wearing Fades, have seen it fit to use their discretion biases when it comes to students of Indian, Asian and Caucasian descent wearing the exact hairstyles deemed inappropriate when worn by their black schoolmates. What are these ‘obvious reasons’ to which he alludes? Apparently fades are only appropriate when worn by Indians, Caucasians, Asians, Soldiers, Presidents and Prime Ministers… but NOT black students.”– Excerpt from Black Hair Matters Part 1
“Having had the wrong kind of education, the Negro has become his own greatest enemy.”– Marcus Garvey
“We speak often of modernized curricula at the secondary level, and the need to pay attention not just to academic/technical areas of study, but to the sense of identity that young people develop as students. Part of this identity is of course the history of their country and region, and their place in this history. Not just in the Caribbean but wherever young, Black women live, we are told that our hair is somehow inadequate: it is ‘hard’ or ‘knotty’. It is not straight ‘enough’, although enough for whom or what one cannot be sure. And where we are kindly allowed to wear our hair naturally as it grows from our heads, there are caveats: as long as it is pulled back or braided tight or otherwise tamed.”
Though no one can force someone to start seeing and appreciating black beauty, it would be beneficial for us to start questioning our beliefs about race, beauty and natural hair. If we recognized that those who created the dominant cultural ideas we’ve internalized did so for their benefit, and not ours, we would be better able to understand that the psychological conflict this internalization causes is self-destructive. Self-hatred continues the cycle of self-degradation, and it’s impossible to teach our children about their self worth, and get them to take their history seriously, if our own sense of self is distorted through a white lens. What are the lessons being taught to us as a society that teachers would think sending a child home for wearing their natural hair out is acceptable and excusable?
“Among my primary concerns is the message being sent to young women of African heritage in this country that their natural selves are of necessity untidy, unsuitable or otherwise inadequate. The argument that “students can do whatever they like once they enter the real world, but this is school” also misunderstands the role of formal education and the process of young people’s development. School is the real world. Young people are understanding themselves and their environment, and while becoming who they will be, they also are.”
Lessons of self- confidence, self- worth and self- identity have to be incorporated into the collective consciousness. Therefore, children have to be socialized to believe their self worth. I’ve heard parents tell their children, “Nuh deh wid nobody blacker than u madda or fada!”
I’ve heard teachers tell children,
“Yuh see how yuh black” as if being black was some sort of leprosy and something to be avoided or ashamed of.
Children spend most of their time at home and school. The only way to undo all what we have learned as it relates to self hate is to constantly drive home the message of self love. The brain is a creature of repetition; whoever gets at it the most will rule it. The brain cannot resist the temptation to believe something that is regularly presented before it or that it’s regularly fed. So that’s what makes teachers’ jobs so hard yet critical. Children only spend approximately 8 hours at school. What do they spend the other 16 hours doing, hearing, and watching? The formative years of conditioning are from birth to 12. It is counterproductive that we (parents, teachers, society) instill values consistent with self hate in those critical years and then try to change them after they have already been habituated and developed personalities and hard habits. As the Jamaican proverb appropriately states, “ben’ the tree when it young, when it old, it will bruck” What people have ever been freed by giving the best years of their children to their ‘oppressor’? The ‘oppressor’, in this instance, is the value system of white bias.
We have to replace the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior. Continuing to promote zero tolerance, masking it as just a commitment to discipline and blind social conformity, we are failing future generations of black kinky hair students. When you fail to engage your school boards in the conversation around changing these outdated rules, that’s your contribution to the old guard. Yes, systems matter, and yes, there are villains and bad apples out there. But we’ve got to be way more honest and own our contribution to all of this. Our contribution can be what we do but also what we fail to do. Let’s make it personal, and admit our own fault and contributions to this value system that promotes ‘white bias’. I know that’s hard to hear. But yes, you and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of discipline — we contribute to the system when we say nothing and do nothing. If we remain silent in matters of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor.
I can see somebody reading and saying, “Look at her telling us not to uphold school rules and preaching about natural hair like she is more enlightened and confident than all of us. But she can say wah she waan say, she don’t have to deal with these unruly kids on a daily basis? and who are you to say we have issues of self hate just because we’re not natural?” I promise you, my intention is not to seem like I am the Malcolm X of natural hair advocacy or that I am righteous and have all the answers. It’s purely out of love for my people when I suggest that rejecting straightened hair is symbolic of a deeper act of rejecting the belief that straightening hair and other forms of grooming which are deemed ‘socially acceptable’ are the only means of looking ‘presentable’, ‘formal’, ‘sophisticated’, ‘groomed’, ‘appropriate’, ‘respectable’, ‘neat’, ‘professional’ and attaining success in society. I, like the other person, am still on that journey of undoing and unlearning all the blatant and subliminal negative messages that were fed to me in my formative years.
The first step to ‘rehabilitation’ is admission and realizing a need for change. Let’s consciously correct our subconscious thoughts, our conversations, and our actions. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. In fact, I have to stop myself from saying and doing things daily that contradict this empowerment of which I speak of. If your ‘discipline’ undermines the values of self love, self worth and self acceptance, it’s time for it to be disrupted.
Others should not be able to dictate to us what is beautiful and we just sit powerlessly regurgitating those beauty standards. Racism ‘works’ by encouraging the devaluation of self-identity by the victims themselves, and that re-centering of a sense of pride is a prerequisite for resistance and reconstruction. Let us take charge of the messages we consume daily and the messages we allow our children to consume. Our hair doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’! Society’s view of beauty is what is broken. I’ve been told more often than not that I’m prejudiced towards women with natural hair. I am not. Some of my most beloved friends have processed hair. However, I choose to highlight beauties with natural hair through this medium because, as a black woman, I understand that I needed to see positive images of black natural hair beauties and, by highlighting them, I am contributing, if only minutely, to my people seeing themselves as BEAUTIFUL. I am challenging the idea that there is one standard of beauty. Good hair is not only straight hair or hair with curl patterns closer to Caucasian, Indian or Asian textures. ‘Good hair’ is HEALTHY hair whether it be kinky, curly, coily, nappy, or straight.
“Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
We are Kings and Queens whose history have been distorted because we allowed someone else to tell it. We were never slaves. We were enslaved. Two different things. I see a need to incorporate and structure our history in the school curriculum in a way that empowers us as a people and that builds self esteem. But who would teach it if there are teachers who themselves need these lessons? Black Hair Matters. Until these hair rules are applied unbiasedly to all kinds of hair then you are asking us to accept that we are ‘valorized according to the tilt of our whiteness’ and that ‘rules are rules’ and must be followed regardless. Back in the day you may have blindly followed and upheld those hair rules but now that you know better or at least should know better (even if only after reading this). Don’t you think it would be irresponsible and cowardice to go back to enforcing those kinds of ‘rules’? The mind stretched by an idea can never be returned to its original dimensions. No man can grow and remain the same. Are you going to stunt positive growth and awareness because of fear and because ‘it has always been done that way’?
Let us be brave if only for the future generation.
Let us not apologise for the texture of our hair and for being disruptive about policies and changes that affect our race.
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Love & Blessings,
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 Letter from group of Harrison College Alumni in Barbados
 Letter from group of Harrison College Alumni in Barbados
 Dr. Umar Johnson
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