Response to: Hair Trends and Racism in South Africa

Response to: Hair Trends and Racism in South Africa
Zulaikha Patel

Below is a response by Ms Nkhensani Banda to an opinion piece – Hair Trends and Racism in South Africa – by Lelouch Giard.

A person I do not know, for reasons I cannot hazard to guess, wrote an article. It was their opinion.

Their opinion irked, offended and left me so thoroughly enraged, I took the time to reply to every inflammatory point. (There are 25 of them).

1. A girl called Zulaikha Patel has recently protested her way into headlines all over South Africa and has sparked a raucous nationwide argument.

Was this a one-woman mission? Or are you only aware of one figure who was highly publicised, but lack any context of the group and organisation that surrounded her highlighted actions?

2. A girl called Zulaikha Patel has recently protested her way into headlines all over South Africa and has sparked a raucous nationwide argument.

Argument?! No, she is highlighting an issue. Like the striking Marikana Miners or the school-children of 1976 – you cannot argue when the other (powerful, dominant) party has the means to eradicate you. The powers that be, have the power to curb her education…

3. – claims that allowed a hostile cloud of fellow students, parents, political party members and self-proclaimed activists and experts to coalesce around her unsubstantiated narrative.

She said it. It happened to her. How dare you remove her agency and require what? – The voice of some benevolent (white) ally to corroborate her lived experience. You cannot stand to witness her reality…how could you even fathom it?!

4. Many students agreed. Many disagreed. Some people eagerly started arranging protect marches within the day on Sunday (for example, the EFFSC at the University of Pretoria). Parents who had never before seen fit to contact the school supported their children and pushed the matter on.

Your bias and prejudice leaked out here. You know this how? Is every parent meant to be part of the PTA? How dare you denigrate and speak so contemptuously of their experiences and circumstances, to so easily disregard their context or stories. Your single-story – the stereotype in your mind – is not the only version, merely the only version appropriate for your skewed narrative

5.Nebulous crowds formed on Twitter and other social media to collectively speak out in support of Patel (a “brave warrior”), or call her a spoiled, attention-seeking brat with a history of expulsions from various schools.

Why did the unpleasant slurs against her not garner quotations? Or was this proven, obvious fact that could simply be stated as opposed to “brave warrior”. Your prejudice is once again showing

6.Nebulous crowds formed on Twitter and other social media to collectively speak out in support of Patel (a “brave warrior”), or call her a spoiled, attention-seeking brat with a history of expulsions from various schools.

What you are doing here is the equivalent of victim-blaming: blaming the victim based on perceived historical proclivities towards certain behaviour you deem inappropriate and pointing to them as a precursor for whatever ill befell them, as being of their making or simply their due. She is 13years old; trying to live and get an education. Her academic history is not under scrutiny here. Her issue that she raised – racial prejudice within an indifferent academic environment – does not require a detailed history of her past report cards. How did you do in Social Science and Cultural studies? Who’s assessing your resume and empathetic qualifications to see if you qualify to speak here? Do not detract from the issue.

7. Her hair naturally grows in an afro – a style of hair most common among black individuals.

Your generalisations are offensive and highlight in glaring terms the depth of your misunderstanding. First of Ms Patel, of people of colour – women in particular – of the greater issue at the heart of this protest and the pervasive nature of white-supremacy and Eurocentric standards of beauty and acceptance, on the psyche of women of colour and their hair

8. This type of hair is difficult, if not near impossible, to comb through and it naturally grows in all directions, rather than easily manageable length.

This entire line offends and shocks me, yet so clearly tells me everything I need to know: the fanciful generalisation, so entirely removed from reality and yet spoken with such boldness. Do not classify your bias as fact upon MY REALITY and BODY. Your generalisations and unspoken prejudice and disdain are noted, and entirely rejected.

9. Many girls who attend the school have told me that they are, indeed, allowed to wear afros, as long as the afros are of reasonable size and well-kept. Clearly claims that the school is “forcing girls to straighten their hair” are unfounded, or at best overstated.

Yet again, why do you feel so comfortable to speak so casually and dismissively about other people’s lived experiences? Would the reality of having to believe the young students be more than you could bear?

10. Just like girls are not allowed to wear loose buns on top of their heads, there are restrictions to what is seen as “neat” in terms of afros as well.

And perhaps that is where the problem lies. If someone entirely removed from the culture and who lacks understanding about the texture, form and features of such hair has to prescribe, how would they be expected to step beyond themselves and regulate fairly?

11. Not to be dissuaded by reality or the normal channels for such concerns, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the African Nation Congress (ANC) and many other political organisations and persons voiced their support for the girls at the school, going so far as to confront School Government Body members and (in the case of the Department of Education) address the SGB directly.

Your specific focus on those two parties is interesting. Does Mmusi Maimane’s comment that his daughter wears her hair in similar fashion not merit a mention as the DA is beyond being named within the same context as the ANC and EFF?

12. Some claimed they used shoe polish to hide their “brush cuts”

Claim? No again with the lax use of vocabulary! They were not claims. They were articulations of their truths, explicit conveying of their experiences. There is no room for doubt. The young women lived what they are stating, those are first-hand witness testimonies.

13. Some accounts seem more believable than others, and all rely on unsubstantiated accounts

Beyond their own experiences of course? Because there was no benevolent white ally to corroborate these “accounts” yet again, the juvenile blacks cannot be trusted to relay their realities…

14. That aside, those tales have further stoked the race hate that has become synonymous with this incident already.

From claims, to accounts and finally to tales. Soon they will be rumours and myths. How dare you strip these individuals of their autonomy and agency in telling their own story!

15. That aside, those tales have further stoked the race hate that has become synonymous with this incident already.

What hatred of another race is being stoked? Where did this original blaze originate from, and how is this girl’s stance adding impetus and to which side? Clarify? It would appear you are referring to a pre-existing situation of which you have laid no foundations, further giving away your pre-conceived notions and conclusions about this matter

16. Yet the toxic narrative of racial biases and inequality and has sprouted…

Are these narratives now deemed toxic when they are coming from young women of colour who are standing up to assert their agency over their bodies and refusing to cow to rules that are biased against them and toxic to their growing identities and self-awareness?

17. …whether the claim is accurate…

Yet again with disbelieving what the girls have to say, until corroborated by some benevolent, reliable, objective other.

18. I understand being proud of your hair and wanting to wear it naturally

Do you understand this because you are a young female of colour in an environment that continually dictates and prescribes your adherence to Eurocentric standards of beauty that entirely disregard everything you are? Or purely based on your balanced critique above, are we to believe this understanding flows?

19. So, if the girl’s hair was truly unkempt on that day,

Define the word, taking into account who defines it, with what background and understanding are they defining and in what context or from what exposure are they reaching such a definition?

20. a teacher would surely (and if not, should)

But no-one would ask, do they? Again, we revert to the question of ethno-cultural sensitivity and understanding. Do the people making these assessments have the adequate training, understanding and exposure to make such a call?

21. ..and “suppress freedom of expression”

That argument could be made. And perhaps, with changing and evolving times, it may need to be considered. However, your departure from school rules being abandoned as an allowance of personal expression and individuality misses several key and relevant steps. The errors in your logic are profound and too numerous for me to attempt to address, even if I had the inclination to do so.

22. According to the principal of Meadowlands High School in Soweto, they do not allow braids at all at their school. He says that the girls and the parents know the school’s rules before they enrol, and he thus questions whether it is right to find fault with the school’s rules halfway through the school year.

How did you arrive at your selection of this particular school with regard to this specific school that is making news? Did you also research the rules of Rodean? Clarendon? DSG? Pietermaritzburg Girls? Or did you look for a black school in a black area and hope that would guide how best to deal with other blacks who have happened to stray beyond their group areas?

23. according to all accounts…

All accounts that you deem accurate and reliable or at this stage, have you simply dismissed the girls as being reliable agents capable of conveying the details of their own lived experiences? At this late stage, that answer would seem clear.

24. That this issue was not brought to the SGB by students or concerned parents makes the protest action hypocritical; little more than a public tantrum

  1. learn the meaning of the word hypocritical
  2. Such careless statements can then be met with replies like: this entire opinion is a public flailing by an otherwise privileged individual choosing to advertise both their ignorance and misunderstanding of a serious and nuanced subject by their contribution of their unsolicited 2cents.

We would both be speaking from a place of total unknowing yet stating our unfounded thoughts as pithy gems of factual truth.

25. over some imagined or exaggerated slight

It heartens me to see your consistency: from start to finish you have maintained that what these girls say happened – the truth they are stating they experienced – simply did not happen, or at least not in the way they plainly state it did, that it was at best, exaggerated.

  1. Race Card is a term wielded by those too petrified to allow and admit to the gravity and extent to which race affects the affected
  2. Your constant referral back to the ANC and EFF conveys more about your conceptions of their politics than about what these parties stand for, and
  3. the fact that you have the gall to dictate when behaviour can be deemed harmful and hurtful when you are not the victim of such behaviour screams of your privilege and renders your entire argument and article baseless, futile and lacking in relevance due to your myopic, unaware perspective.