The protests of black students from Pretoria High School For Girls in South Africa received world-wide support, with many drawing attention to the cause on Twitter. It became a trending topic; with the hashtag: #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh . The students were protesting the school’s code of conduct in relation to hairstyles. Check out the story and the code of conduct here.
The protests took place at the School’s annual fair on the 27th of August, and sparked debate about racism at the school. The students claimed the policy discriminated against them for wearing their natural, Afro textured hair. They also claimed to have faced derogatory remarks from teachers and, no support from the school in addressing these matters.
Pretoria High School has since suspended the hair policy after pressure from government ministers and the Board of Education in Gauteng SA. A twenty-one day investigation into the school’s hair policy was ordered by Education Minister Panyaza Lesufi. In a statement released August 30th on their facebook page, they stated that the policy should be suspended while a new and improved one is created.
The Department of Education called for an end to the victimization of learners purely because of their hairstyles and use of African languages. The Department of Education gave the following examples, which highlight the full extent of the racism faced by black students at the school:
1. Use of African languages on the school premises is not tolerated yet the other learners are allowed to express themselves in Afrikaans (a language spoken by white South Africans).
2. Learners feel that they are not allowed to wear Black hairstyles, such as Afros. Specifically, the school policy limits the length of the hairstyle, and this is arbitrarily interpreted by the educators. The learners feel that educators use abusive and demeaning language when they address them regarding their hairstyles. For instance some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.
3. Racial abuse and victimization by both white educators and white learners, in particular the use of hurtful terms such as monkeys, kaffir, and being told you belong at Mamelodi High and not at Pretoria Girls. In one incident a white learner told a black learner she does not need a pencil but should rather use her finger since it was black enough. Some white learners complained in a music class that they are being taught kaffir music when the teacher was trying to teach them an African folk song.
4. Management and senior officials in the school deal flippantly with, or ignore learners’ complaints about racial abuse and victimization. For example, the learners complained that they are told to ‘get over it’ or ‘toughen up’ this is not a primary school.
5. The school response was heavy-handed in calling the police and private security.
6. The harassment and victimization is not only limited to the school grounds, but at school excursions as well.
These examples are deplorable and show the lack of support given by the school. Rather than providing a safe environment for learning; black students are believed to have faced racism and ridicule at the school, simply for being themselves. This shows how crucial the protests were, and the importance of speaking out and standing against racism.
How many more schools have similar racist policies with black students suffering in silence? The protests at Pretoria High School has encouraged students at other schools to speak out. Students at Lawson Brown High for instance have also held protests against similar discriminatory hair policies.
These students should be commended for their courage. No doubt the worldwide support generated on social media played a role in addressing this issue. Glad to hear that action was taken swiftly and the Department of Education has set a course of action in addressing the racism at the school. Such action includes counselling and support for the students involved, as the whole experience must have been traumatic for them.
It’s disheartening to hear of this occurring in 2016, especially considering South Africa’s history. There is still a lot of work to do, not just in South Africa but in many Western countries as well. Here in the U.S some schools have faced accusations of racism due to hair policies. Even the U.S Army had to reform its dress code policy in relation to hairstyles; after it was accused of discriminating against black women with natural hair.
What do you think of this report? Are you happy to hear that the policy has been suspended and will be reformed? Do you believe many of us still face discrimination for simply wearing our hair natural?
Please share your thoughts below.