The marginalization and discrimination of black hair

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Following debates with some of my friends as to whether the radical actions as taken by the Economic Freedom Fighters over the Clicks debacle are necessary and justified, I had to confront former and present regulations on black hair and what they mean to this whole issue. Granted, I might be taking two arbitrary issues and linking them, however allow me to take this huge step of faith and try to reason where all this outrage comes from and why I believe it is completely justified.

image from facetoface Africa.

The government of Apartheid came to an end in 1994 and today, more than 26 years later, anyone and everyone who has eyes can see that some legacy and scars of the apartheid regime remain. This is seen more intensely in the spatial distribution of wealth, land and income across the races. However my argument is not on that but rather the psychological scars and the systematic marginalization and discrimination of black people as a results of previous apartheid laws.

Through a quick google search, I was able to come across something called the “Pencil Test”. The pencil test was used up until 1994 and it was used to test the race of individuals by measuring the relative ease with which a pencil passes through an individual’s hair. Coarser hair was then, through which a pencil will not pass through easily, associated with blackness, and I believe it is unnecessary to relay to anyone that blackness was undesirable and that white was better, and that softer hair was/is desirable.

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image from IBTimes India

Besides this pencil test, black hair was/is still is policed in schools and in the work place, with some hair styles still considered unprofessional. To put this point in perspective, I’d like to confront my own background and upbringing. I was born and raised In Ga-Thoka, a small village that falls under Ga-Mothapo chieftaincy. I went to a primary school called Molamo Primary School. Beside this primary school, I can name up to five other primary schools around the area which had/have it mandatory for learners to cut their hair.

I then proceeded to go to a Catholic high school which was believed to be “white-owned” but black run. In this particular high-school unlike other high schools in the area that were government run, we were not allowed to do braids but only wool-threaded hairstyles as they were deemed as professional and cleaner.

Although these hair policies are not ubiquitous, however they do tell a story that is embedded in racism and apartheid. In 2016, just 4 years ago, a young girl by the name Zulaikha Patel, an activist against the hair policies at the Pretoria Girls High, spoke out on the hair policies at her school, which then led to an uproar all over the country where it was established that the hair policies were racist and discriminatory. My argument is that these institutional regulations on hair lead to an even more complicated implication on interpersonal and intrapersonal levels.

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As it stands today, black women buy wigs more than any other race in the world, this is according to Brittani Young in a dissertation released in 2018 titled “Why Is No One Getting A Weave Of An Afro:Examining Culture, Economy, And Domestic Human Hair Consumption By African American Women”. This then begs the question if whether the multimillionaire wig industry flourishes because silky soft hair is seen as more beautiful or easier to manage? My questioning of this phenomenon is not to allude that black women don’t appreciate their hair, but perhaps may have been unconsciously conditioned to aspire towards such hair.

I could go on and on and point out many other policies that seem to further subjugate black people and their hair however, at this point i believe my point has been made and that there is a very strong link between oppression, racism & discrimination and black hair policies. One needs not to be ignorant of such strong histories of this discourse.

A multi-million company such as Clicks cannot be allowed to be guilty of such a blunder. They should have teams that investigate such histories in order to better reach their market. It is therefore justified why people are appalled and outraged, to reduce black people hair to such, as in the clicks ad is horrendous and as such the perpetrators should be brought to some form of justice. #BlackHairMatters.

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