Cultural power relations, racism and natural hair

Yesterday we were all were awoken to the uproar caused by the discrimination and racism the black girls were facing at Pretoria Girls High School. These young girls were being told that their natural hair was untidy and unkempt, and told to refrain from speaking in their mother tongues as it seen as conspiring (even though the Afrikaans girls can speak their home language on the schools grounds to their heart’s content.) This is not about hair; it’s about institutionalized racism, about discriminatory school rules meant to strip us of our blackness, about cultural power relations and about victimizing young girls for standing up for themselves.

14-16 year old PHSG students marching for the right to wear their natural hair

Those protecting white privilege and standards of beauty hide behind the pretense of these rules upholding the school’s image and encouraging orderly conduct. Who’s standards are we asserting if you can’t be who you are and wear your hair as it grows out of your scalp? Why can’t we challenge the status quo and the so-called school rules when they are clearly outdated, prejudice against a black child and down right racist? Why are we still governed by western standards and not African ones? Some girls weren’t even allowed to write exams before “flattening” their Afro’s, as if what is on your head determines the content in your mind.


The stories our black girls shared are heart breaking and infuriating at the same time, and sadly what happened at PHSG isn’t unique and the stories are all too familiar at so-called model C schools across South Africa. I too went through similar situations when I was a student sporting my curly and bushy mane proudly through the school’s halls, tasked to police “exotic” hairstyles (braids and weaves) as a member of the student council.  You would have thought that by now over 10 years later, things would be different, yet we still face the same problems today.

However we live in hope that as the wheel turns and we continue to voice our outrage,  the authorities will do something about it other than talk to the media, and that change will be rolled out to not only schools in Gauteng, but across South Africa as well. Change will come and the next generation will not have to go through the same things we did because of these brave little girls who are making sure their voices aren’t silenced, fighting a fight they shouldn’t have to in the first place. There is a petition you can sign to Stop Racism At Pretoria Girls High and ensure that their demands are met at the highest levels through the correct channels. Sign here


Oh and since you’re still here, read through this article by MALAIKA EYOH,  grade 12 student at Pretoria High School for Girls who sums it all up from first hand experience. Aluta Continua black child.