Racist School Rules On Hair Cause Protest at Pretoria High School In South Africa

Racist School Rules On Hair Cause Protest at Pretoria High School In South Africa

Lance Chea, Journalist

A media frenzy has sparked South Africa these past few weeks at Pretoria High School for Girls. The young teens have formed a protest movement working to bring awareness to the racist hair policies at their school.

Countless black pupils were suspended after supposedly breaking the school’s ‘code of conduct’ about the way their hair should be worn and styled. The girls are told school rules forbid African hairstyles such as afros, bantu knots, dreadlocks, and braids. Some students reported incidents where administrative roles told them to “fix” their hair, some advising the use of chemical straighteners, and others just leaving a reminder of the school guidelines. Not only are these young girls being discouraged of their natural hair, but the provincial Gauteng department of education ordered an inquiry into statements that white teachers are “mocking the African’s usage of their mother language,” and using the reference of “monkeys” because of their hair and the way they sound. “It’s degrading”, said a classmate, “If we don’t stick up for ourselves, no one else is going to.”

Claims of white students at Pretoria High are also implicated for racial discrimination along with the white teachers.

On August 26th, the students attended an assembly to protest through the weekend. Heavy security was called to try and contain them, armed guards and authorities reportedly threatened to arrest the girls at one point. Images of the rally struck social media and videos of the protest went viral. A hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh made the top trending story on Twitter. One photo in particular spammed all headline stories, 13 year old Zulaikha, an attendee of Pretoria High, who has been in detention before about her hair, standing with her arms crossed above her head in front of a white administrator shows strong symbolism for the movement. A petition sent around the community by the protesters to end racist policies at Pretoria got over 25,000 signatures.

I took the liberty of interviewing a couple girls at Thomas Worthington High School about the topic asking their thoughts on the issue.

“If white people with naturally curly hair don’t have to straighten their hair then why do black girls have to?” said Haja, an 18 year old Guinean native at Thomas Worthington.

I asked another student from Thomas Worthington if she felt the pressure in today’s society of hair standards and racial ideology, “When I was younger I used to get perms and use relaxers because that’s what you were supposed to do if you are a black girl, your hair should be straight and long like everyone else.” Stephanie said, also a senior from Ghana. “As I got older I finally realized that those chemicals were damaging my hair, and I decided to go natural but I was scared of what people were going to think, like if they would make fun of me because of my hair.