Punished for natural hair – girls of colour are fighting hair discrimination
For women of colour, hair is political.
Thanks to Eurocentric beauty standards that are still pervasive in advertising campaigns, TV, films and social media, many girls are taught that there hair is not beautiful from a very young age.
Beyond that, wearing natural hairstyles that don’t conform to European ideals can actually get women of colour in trouble. They can be sent home from school, punished at work or even fired. Simply because of the natural way their hair grows.
This is what happened to 13-year-old Aisha*. Aisha was suspended from school for a week because she was told that her natural hair didn’t adhere to school regulations.
Aisha was told that her hair was ‘too big’ and was asked to tie it up. When she was unable to do that, she was sent to the Head Teacher’s office and told that her actions were ‘disruptive’.
After a week of suspension, Aisha was reintroduced to her lessons via the school’s internal exclusion room: an isolation room where students are sent to carry out their work in silence, supervised by a teacher.
It is stories like this that have lead to a new campaign to encourage young women of colour to celebrate and embrace their natural hair.
Football development and mentoring programme, Goals4Girls, have launched their campaign, ‘My hair, my identity’, to help their girls and young women embrace their hair.
Over the course of the campaign, the organisation will be sharing stories from their young people and supporters, as well releasing a video discussion centred around a group of young women of colour, and their hair journeys. All will be shared on their Instagram page.
‘We created this campaign to help young women like Ivanna embrace their hair but above all else, their identities, cultures and histories,’ says Francesca Brown, founder and CEO of Goals4Girls.
‘As an organisation, we understand that it isn’t fair for us to be educating Ivanna on how to act when in a situation like the one she found herself in, but that institutions like her school, should in fact be educated about the importance of hair for children of colour.
‘It’s a long journey, but this is how we see ourselves combatting systemic racism; by equipping our young people with the skills needed to navigate a system that wasn’t built for them so that eventually, they can be the change that we all need.
‘Beyond every braid, curl, lock and strand is a sacred story for women of colour – and even though it is “just hair” to so many, it’s so much more than that, and we are about to share this through Goals4Girls.’
Seven out of 10 Goals4Girls participants have been discriminated against because of their hair, and 3 out of 10 have been excluded.
With 82% of Goals4Girls’ participants identifying as Black or Asian, the organisation felt it was vital for their young people to understand and embrace their identities in a world where people of colour aren’t seen to fit in to traditional perceptions of beauty.
‘My hair is one of my favourite things about myself,; says Indiana, a 13-year-old member. ‘I feel like it tells a story of who I am.’
Indiana’s mum created her own range of hair care products as they couldn’t find anything suitable and affordable for her curls.
‘I’ve always struggled accepting my hair as it differs from the rest of my family,’ says Assmaa who is 14. ‘But I’ve grown to accept it and love it just as it is.’
Assmaa has really tight curls, her Afro is completely different her siblings’ straight hair.
‘My hair is my identity,’ adds Gemma, who is 15. ‘The way I style it and the colours I have braided in, express who I am.
‘I love my hair even when told that it’s not “professional”. My hair is a part of me.’
Goals4Girls have used this period of protest and upset – following the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement – to listen, educate and care for their young women.
The campaign provides their young people with a platform to speak about the importance of their hair in relation to their cultures, histories and identities.
Goals4Girls are currently fundraising to ensure their unit on ‘Identity’ is fully resourced this summer; a first for the organisation but a must, as so many of their young people have been left without support and guidance during the pandemic.
*Aisha’s name has been changed as she wanted to be kept anonymous.
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