Dear Editor: It’s more than hair; why policing hairstyles in schools must stop!

“No one and no institution can please everyone, but all the bloodshed, genocide and ethnic violence due to both conscious and unconscious bias in the world should indicate to everyone with a sound mind, and especially to educators, that racism in any form, however subtle, needs to end. It must be suffocated at all its roots, and the attempt to do this must be made by all human beings with any power and conscience.”

The following Letter to the Editor weighs in on the practice of policing African hairstyles in schools. It was submitted to Wired868 by music educator Nzinga Sibongile Job:

Bantu knots

Having just read Shabaka Kambon’s opinion on the issue of discipline being conflated unnecessarily with the versatility of curly and coily textured hair worn in Trinidad and Tobago’s schools, I wish to share my own thoughts on this same issue in this forum. More (and not less) articulation on this matter can only help the persons threatened by Trinidad and Tobago’s institutional failure to deal with this issue: the future generations.

In the 21st century, there is no justification for students being kept out of class simply because of the way they choose to display the natural texture of their hair (I am not speaking of braids or cornrows, just the way the hair grows out of the person’s head).

There may be only one right way to comb straight hair but there is definitely not only one right way to comb curly and coily hair. It cannot be fair that one student is allowed to grow head hair and be judged as disciplined, while another who does the same is not, merely because of the way the latter’s hair naturally behaves, having come out of the follicle a couple of inches!

If the teacher putting the child out of the class does not share her curly or coily hair texture, and as such is likely to be somewhat unfamiliar with its challenges, such an action can easily and readily be interpreted as racist by any onlooker and—what is far worse and more tragic and alarming—by the more impressionable students themselves!

Children come to life relatively untainted by prejudice and discrimination. So, it is indeed a tragedy for a student to arrive at a school believing that no one looks down on him merely because of his hair, and to leave fairly certain that this kind of unfair judgment of, and disdain for, one’s own biology as not good enough is part of the way the world is.

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It is also tragic such a young person could believe that no one would protest that injustice, while still supporting strong standards for good grooming and the development of the discipline of personal professionalism.

No one and no institution can please everyone, but all the bloodshed, genocide and ethnic violence due to both conscious and unconscious bias in the world should indicate to everyone with a sound mind, and especially to educators, that racism in any form, however subtle, needs to end. It must be suffocated at all its roots, and the attempt to do this must be made by all human beings with any power and conscience.

However, man’s sustained capacity to fool himself and to abdicate responsibility to change for the overall health of the world truly beggars description by even the most fecund imagination.

Power is a two-way street, and those who allow themselves to value propriety over empowerment will continue to be abused. As such, hopefully, the national parent-teacher association, led by its fairly new president, finds the wherewithal and the stamina to continually raise their voices against this rising injustice to pressure the permanent secretary and the minister to get this issue properly handled. It strikes at the heart of human freedom, dignity and ethnic and cultural harmony.

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2 comments

  1. From a 1920s memoir: “Among coloured people I have often heard it said that the social grades are very exacting, and are based on the amount of coloured blood in them. I do not think this is true, for I have met quite black people in the houses of the High Brown and High Browns in the houses of the Clear Skinned, and they obviously move in the same social circle. But I have noticed one very curious thing – it seems to be the hair, and not the colour, that is the real social bar!”

  2. Are we taking note of the difficulties children of the AFRICAN Diaspora must encounter as they go through this life.
    People of African decent MUST always struggle many times more than ANY other race, in ANY culture, ANY part of the world to survive.
    *Animals are protected!
    *Use of dangerous drugs are protected
    *Criminals are protected
    *Unnatural sex is protected etc…
    Nobody, but nobody has what it takes to protect and defend the rights of our impressionable young and vulnerable people of African Heritage throughout.

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