Editorials 30.8.2016 06:05 am

Don’t dread the hair debate

Pretoria Girls High School protest. Picture: Twitter

Pretoria Girls High School protest. Picture: Twitter

South Africa cannot conduct itself like a country in Europe and impose norms and standards as though it is not an African nation.

The events of yesterday at Pretoria High School for Girls were indicative of both some of the progress we are making as a nation and how far we have left to go.

For any white person to even begin to think that they can wade into the debate on how a black person should wear their hair is always going to be hugely problematic. As Steve Biko once wrote (and we paraphrase), South Africa cannot conduct itself like a country in Europe and impose norms and standards as though it is not an African nation.

All the same, the allegations by the schoolgirls need to be tested before we accept that the school is as wildly racist as it now appears.

Whatever the findings are, the lesson that we are still forging a South African identity that not only understands our diversity, but celebrates it, promotes it and finds strength in it, is one we must not ignore.

Singer-songwriter India Arie famously wrote in her song I Am Not My Hair:

“I am not my hair, I am not this skin; I am not your expectations; I am not my hair, I am not this skin; I am a soul that lives within.”

That may sound twee to the more cynical among us, but we could do well to remember that the hair debate is about far more than hair, and it would be too easy to lose sight of that. It is about coming to terms with blackness being “normal” and not something that has to be combated with skin lighteners, chemicals and hair-straightening irons.

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