Black South African Students at Pretoria High School for Girls Are Protesting for Their Right to Wear Natural Hair
Over the weekend, students at Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa gathered in protest of the school's discriminatory code of conduct. The young women stood together in solidarity to demonstrate against the school's policy that prohibits students from wearing their natural hair—a rule that primarily affects black students attending the formerly whites-only academy. Students — some as young as 13 — say they've been told to straighten their natural hair, been sent home for wearing cornrows and Afros, and, in the case of one student, been suspended for the "uncontrollable" nature of their hair (coincidentally, this same student had given a presentation on the "ills of apartheid" that did not sit well with school administrators on the same day she was suspended).
The demonstrations, however, go beyond the students' hair, as many on Twitter have pointed out. Apartheid, South Africa's legalized system of racial segregation, remained in effect until 1994. In the 22 years since apartheid ended, the country is still marked by racial tension, particularly for black women who feel like they are being policed when choosing to represent themselves in an authentic way.
"This is about our identity as black people. We're tired of being told to be less than what we are so we can fit in," one of the protesters told the BBC.
As the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh gained major traction in the region over the weekend, the demonstration drew the support of thousands on social media, including South African Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa who tweeted in support of students protecting their right to wear their natural hair and criticized the educational institution from acting in a manner contrary to this.
Photos of the anti-racism protests also went viral and more than 25,000 people signed a petition calling for the revision of the school's code of conduct. On Tuesday, Pretoria High School for Girls announced that the discriminatory policies regarding how girls wear their hair have been suspended—no doubt thanks to the strong message put forward by the activists.
Here's to the young women at Pretoria High School for Girls — and everywhere — having the freedom to wear their hair however they please.
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