A harmless school policy or a colonialism legacy?
“Black hair is political”. I have encountered this phrase many times and often wondered what it meant. How can my hair be political? It grows on my head, how and why should it be subjected to policy and scrutinization most of which is discriminating? Well, whether we agree with it or not, there are issues around natural black hair. How it should be worn, when it should be shown off, which styles are appropriate or professional and many other forms of policing.
You might say, in Malawi and in Africa, we are free to do whatever we want with our hair. Unlike like the United States of America, where black people lose employment opportunities or have to choose between their hair and career. Remember Makeda Mbewe, the eight-year-old standard 5 student in Malawi who, in 2020, was denied admission at Blantyre Girls Primary school because she had dreadlocks? The school required that she cut her hair for her to be enrolled. The parents took the case to court and luckily won. The High court in Zomba made a monumental ruling when it ordered all public schools to allow students with dreadlocks.
Sadly, there had been several cases similar to Makedas’ which hadn’t reached the courtrooms or newsrooms. Where children had been denied their right to education and freedom of religion. Have you ever wondered, ‘what if Makeda was not Rafastarian?’ What if she was just some little girl who liked her natural locks? What would happen then? Considering also that our constitution is silent on what hair length is acceptable in public schools.
Public primary schools in Malawi make it mandatory for its learners to cut their hair short with now an exception of Rastafarian students. The Schools backed by the Ministry of Education, claim that this is done to ensure uniformity, hygiene and punctuality. Some further state that they don’t want the students to be obsessed or distracted with their looks at such a young age. Are these justifications valid or just lame excuses covering up the discrimination against black people’s natural features such as our hair? Clearly, an obvious move which was instigated by colonialism and slave trade.
Perhaps if natural hair styles were acceptable as early as primary school stage, maybe people wouldn’t have to cut off their locks to be taken seriously or to be considered professional in different fields, such as medicine, teaching and other commercial industries. If we were allowed to keep hair to a length as we pleased like other races, maybe we wouldn’t grow up believing that black hair is undesirable, untamed and just nappy, which means it has to be cut or covered. Maybe we would be prouder of this hair that grows on our heads. Maybe, just maybe, we would fix our crowns and take our role as Queens.