Target: Karen du Toit, Principal of Pretoria Girls High
Goal: Remove the section of school’s dress code that discriminates against black students who choose to wear their natural hair.
A girls school in South Africa is at the center of an ongoing protest for sending a student home for choosing to wear her natural hair, which violated part of the dress code that forbids students from wearing afros. This policy is blatantly racist, as it singles out black students.
The very idea that natural, black hair is “messy,” “unprofessional,” and “ugly” is deeply rooted in racism and anti-blackness. Euro-centric beauty standards that favor light skin and straight hair are heavily reinforced in most societies and are often internalized by those who do not meet these arbitrary standards. Rather than being taught to embrace their natural beauty and uniqueness, young black girls are often pressured into keeping their hair straightened or wearing extensions to make it look more socially acceptable. This practice teaches self-hatred rather than self-acceptance, and its negative impact cannot be understated.
This long history of discrimination against black women and their hair is what makes Pretoria Girls High’s dress code so oppressive and damaging. All hair is beautiful, and, more importantly, it’s part of what makes each of us who we are. Pretoria’s black students should not have to face this kind of discrimination any longer. Tell this school that they must remove their ridiculous ban on natural hair immediately and apologize to the student they punished for wearing an afro.
Dear Ms. du Toit,
Your school’s ban on natural hair is nothing short of oppressive and racist. This policy obviously targets your black students by implying that their hair in its natural state is somehow inferior to that of their naturally straight-haired classmates.
Hair is a part of one’s identity and heritage, and to take that away from young black women is despicable. In a country divided by apartheid until just a little over 20 years ago, it is baffling that Pretoria would be so bold as to impose a racist dress code on its black students. This policy is absolutely disgraceful and must be changed immediately in order to restore a sense of equality.
I hope that the recent protests and petitions targeted against this policy will help you to realize just how damaging and unfair it is. Your students deserve better treatment; they deserve to feel that their most natural self is beautiful in every way, not “messy” or “unkempt.” I must urge you to allow your students to wear their natural hair for the sake of their self-esteem and the school’s reputation.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Steven Depolo