September 15 marked World Afro Day — a day marked to celebrate Afro hair, culture and identity while also raising awareness and normalising Afro-textured hair.
Afro hair is commonplace in our society but is still heavily policied, especially in the school system. A petition on change.org, created by James Emmanuel, is calling on the education ministers across Australia, particularly NSW Minister of Education Sarah Mitchell, to make it illegal for school uniform policies to discriminate against students’ Afro hair.
Under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 – SECT 17 Education in NSW, private school uniforms are unregulated, which according to Emmanuel’s petition, means students of African diaspora are not explicitly protected.
When Emmanuel was a teenager, he was targeted by “disciplinary figures” at his private school for his traditional twist braids for his “extreme hairstyle” that was deemed “unacceptable”.
“I was in grade 10 when I returned home to my small town from a trip to Kenya to visit my sick grandmother,” Emmanuel wrote for HuffPost. “My 4A/3CAfro-textured hair had been neatly braided into tiny twist-braids at a local salon in Nairobi.
“It took a gruelling five hours and a few first-timer tears for my hair to be twisted airtight from the base of my scalp — a technique to stop the pinky-sized braids from unravelling. Finally, I was going beyond just speaking a few elementary words in Swahili to connect with my culture.
“In my eyes, the braids complied with the uniform rulebook. They were above the collar, above the ears, neat, short and sensible. I felt defeated and now insulted, realising my cultural identity (my Afro in its natural state and its corresponding protective styles) could not be embraced without being outlawed as ‘extreme’.”
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Happy #WorldAfroDay everyone!! Our hair is elegant, our hair is majestic, our hair is our POWER ✨ To celebrate today, I want to push #ProtectBlackStudents as safe platform/hashtag for Australian students and alumni to share their experiences with hair discrimination in schools. Allies, I also seriously encourage you to use the hashtag to lobby policymakers, and raise further awareness for our campaign. It is draining for us to continue proving these covert discriminations exist. It is something we have been accustomed to growing up in Australia. Fuck that, let’s eradicate these racial biases now. It’s 2020. - Stand up today, post a photo like this, use the hashtag #ProtectBlackStudents + sign the petition! change.org/protectblackstudents - To the NSW Attorney General @speakman.mark & NSW Minister for Education @sarahmitchellmlc you are failing to #ProtectBlackStudents
In July this year, a private Christian school in Brisbane was ordered to apologise to a five-year-old Cook Islands boy after it was deemed the school discriminated against Cyrus Taniela when it threatened to expel the boy due to his hair.
According to SBS, the school told Taniela’s family that his hair would have to be cut before the second semester of school started or he would have to leave. Taniela’s mother, Wendy, took the matter to Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal on the grounds that Taniela’s hair was being grown for a traditional hair-cutting ceremony.
“I find that there was direct discrimination on the basis of race,” said QCAT member, Samantha Traves, when she presented her decision on the case. “While I accept that it is important for schools to have uniform policies that require certain standards of dress and appearance be maintained, I do not think it is reasonable to apply those policies without exception.”
“Convincing Afro-diasporic students that their natural state is “extreme” also instills anti-Black values in students,” Emmanuel wrote. “It conditions students of the African diaspora to think our natural selves are not “presentable” in society, leading us to internalise and uphold these colonial values.
“My biggest post-school shock was my Afro not being policed by management at my jobs. I caught myself preparing to adapt to the dominant culture — but that never had to happen.”
In August, Emmanuel received a letter from the NSW Education Minister in response to his campaign. In the letter, MinisterMitchell outlined the existing anti-racist laws in place in schools in the state but, as Emmanuel highlighted in an Instagram post, these policies failed to protect him and many others.
To sign Emmanuel’s petition, head to the change.org website to show your support.