OUTLAW MANDATORY CUTTING OF NATURAL HAIR IN UGANDAN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS.
OUTLAW MANDATORY CUTTING OF NATURAL HAIR IN UGANDAN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS.
Why this petition matters
BLACK HAIR MATTERS: A PETITION TO OUTLAW MANDATORY CUTTING OF NATURAL HAIR IN UGANDAN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS FOR BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS.
When I was 18 years old, a high school senior clad in unflattering grey and even more grey, I remember painfully pleading to the administrators of Uganda Martyrs Senior Secondary School as three full grown men held me down to a large strapping swiveling chair. My desperate plea to them was one- Please sirs, do not make me cut of my hair.
I was having an asthmatic attack at the time but the pre-requisite that the nurse was given before she could sign me out to go home, was that I had to (short breath and heaving chest and all) be subjected to a hair cut. My measly one inch afro was the reason why I was being “rightfully” punished before a large crowd of unapologetic staff and students alike. I became a spectacle that day in 2017; A grisly reminder to all the other students of just what happened to people who felt they had the right…the AUDACITY to grow their natural hair out of their heads while within an institutional setting.
Now you could argue and say that I knew the school rules. And that I agreed to them when I signed them. You cannot however imagine the furious indignance that surged through my very core when I looked around, and lo and behold my fellow students of different races, just because they were a few or more shades lighter than me, and had a slightly varying facial bone structure, were given lee-way to be above the rules. Half-castes and Caucasians, and Asians-Basically every race EXCEPT African were given a chance to “plead their case” and keep their hair. When I set these observations side by side with the reality of what I was being told, it quickly dawned on me that it was no longer a war against hair in general, but a war against my natural black hair in particular. (Some more honest schools go as far as suggesting that you can keep you hair only if it is relaxed)
This, in my mind’s eye so painfully parodied the old Colonial practice in 1786 Louisiana where African hair was banned for slave women of African ancestry. The sumptuary law was enacted under Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró. This unfair and systematic attack guised as a "regulation" was meant as a means to control the style of dress and appearance for Black people. Black women’s features often attracted male white, French, and Spanish suitors and their beauty was a perceived threat to white women. The tignon law was a tactic used to combat the men pursuing and engaging in affairs with Creole women. Simply put, black women competed too openly with white women by dressing elegantly and possessing note-worthy beauty.
I knew the school rules alright. But in my childish optimism , in my clandestine ruminations, I hoped, prayed, wished and yearned for the day where school administrations sat down and realised, "Maybe so many children are fighting us on this hair issue because we are somehow in the wrong?"
That day never came, and so I have taken it upon myself as being responsible for the change I want to see in the world, especially at a politically tumultuous world where Africans are learning to shirk their colonial skin and embrace the aspects of their identity that were previously and unjustly persecuted.
It is imperative to note that cutting hair is a common practice in primary and secondary schools across the nation. (I have been fighting for the right to grow my own hair like a criminal for years.)
My point is, it was never an issue about the school, because the rigid system that governs all the schools reigns supreme wherever you turn. It is a systematic issue. Much as a majority of the youth I have spoken to disagree with this archaic and internally racist ideal, we have been powerless to say anything because the parents and teachers have literally told us we will not study if we wish to grow our hair. My hair has always been a part of my identity, who I am as an individual (we need to talk about how the education system strips children of their individuality) Hair is a natural thing that grows out of the scalp of any normal human being. What I decide to do with it, is a representation of who I am as a person. Please don't strip me of my soul? Wearing my "black" hair makes me so unbelievably happy, yet I cannot count the number of times I or people like me have been told to literally make a decision between my happiness and mental well-being, verus getting an education. IT. IS. NOT. RIGHT. IT MUST BE STOPPED.
Millenials and Gen Zs in Uganda have been forced to choose between sanity and basic education for years and years and you wonder why we are distant and depressed. The people in charge of the education system have failed in their duty to us! Yet we are citizens and stakeholders too!
The reasons that the adults in my life have given to justify bullying me into an insecure human being who is ashamed of her own natural hair do not make the case look any more appealing.
In my P1 at Kabojja Junior school, my teacher caved to her internalized racisms and told me flat out that my hair was ugly, and that I needed to cut if off or “fix it” if I wanted to stay in her class. I remember that evening in tears, head dipped over the ceramic bath as my mother diligently applied toxic chemicals onto the scalp, causing painful burns that I had for weeks on end, in order to get my hair “beautiful” (Read: Eurocentric) the next day at school she told me I was presentable. What she should have said was, congratulations, you are now like me. Now you hate your natural appearance too!
In Mt. St. Mary’s College namagunga, one of the nuns told me my hair was untidy. Well of course it was untidy. It was barely two inches long and no one had taken the time to sit me down and teach me how to love my hair. Because the bitter fact of the matter is that no one actually believed that my short kinky scruff of gravity defying coils was worth loving. Remember when the miss Uganda returned and our president rightfully noted that she should have represented the country using her natural hair? I ask humbly oh your excellence sir, where was she supposed to learn how to take care of her hair from if her own society didn’t think it important? No one talks about black hair matters because black hair doesn’t matter in the current system! They always told me to cut it. And so grudgingly- I did.
A certain conservative parent (Boomer) so easily justified.. “Children cannot study if that have hair. “ to which I must simply laugh. “The hair will distract them. They will spend time trying to make it beautiful…” It is almost as silly as saying, children cannot study if they have skin. If hair is such an impediment to academic concentration, are you trying to say that the half-castes who are allowed to keep their hair are somehow intellectually superior to us native Africans? What of college students? Do they not study because they have hair? Women in offices encouraging your daughters to cut their beautiful God-given locks, do you not work because you have hair on your head? Someone who does not function because they have hair on their head would not have functioned either way. And that is that. Periodt.
In Namugongo, the administrators shamelessly front “ If they girls at let to grow their hair, then they will distract the boys. “ or even worse… distract the male teachers. For the last time, no woman should be held accountable for controlling a man’s gaze. The reason for your temptation is not justification for your crime. How about instead of raising little girls to be afraid of their own power, you teach the men to control themselves? The girls go to school to study, not to create a conducive learning environment for the boys. As for the teachers, any teacher who takes interest in a high school student because they have hair is a pedophile and he or she should be fired, not defended. What business does a teacher have getting distracted by his female student with hair or bald or headless, whatever? Such notions means you are a rape apologist at heart. For your information the boys in Namugongo for the most part weren’t distracted by the girls for they were too busy running from the teachers who wanted them to cut off THEIR hair as well.
The logical fallacies holding up the arguments of people who condone cutting of natural African hair are simply and stupendously ridiculous. It is truly amazing that we have let this practice carry on for this long!
In case you have read this far and still believe you have a GOOD reason for cutting hair, then I should like to direct your attention to the title of this petition which stipulates that there must be an abolition of MANDATORY hair-cutting. No system sustained by forced and systematic oppression can result in any good for both parties involved.
Here I am now today. 21. Bitter. Indignant. Angry. A whole 21 year of woman just now learning from absolute strangers what it takes to take care of hair like mine. (It’s not as hard as people exaggerate. Step one is a little hair love) still struggling with patches of my hair that I relaxed because I felt at some point in my life, that maybe, just maybe if the chemicals burned my scalp long enough, I too would become beautiful.
As I write this I think fondly of my two little sisters, stuck in a system that doesn’t care about their individual opinion. They are excitedly using this coronavirus break to try and learn how to live an take care of their beautiful 4C hair. At the end of this, it would be a shame for them to go try to go to school, only to be told… no. Your hair is unprofessional (as if Apollo Milton Obote, a whole president didn’t sport a stunner Afro) Cut it off. Become insecure. Wait until college to realise you were cheated. Feel angry but know there is nothing you can do about it. Have children and then force them to cut off their hair too because someone needs to pay and the system needs to POINTLESSLY continue.
This will not be our post covid reality. I say we stop this NOW.
I may have lost all my battles in high-school, but the war is not yet over until every African child in a primary or Secondary institution of learning reserved the right to say No. You will not cut of my hair without giving me a good reason. You will not FORCE me to cut of my hair. For it is not ugly. It is not unprofessional. It is not difficult or untamable. It is just black hair. And that’s what you have a problem with. So check your attitude, I maintain my peace, my beauty, my grace. I am proud of the way my hair defies gravity. Proud of the way it bounces with a life of its own. Proud of the volume, like a lion’s mane . Proud of its sheen, its shine, its coils, it’s kinks. Proud of the way I can play with it in twists. Knots. Curls and braids. Proud.
If you are like me, if you feel that you want to see more beautiful natural hair in it’s full glory gracing our country, then I ask of you to sign this petition to evoke the following changes;
-Before schools reopen, legislators and government officials in the Ministry of Education should be held accountable for their failure to create a hassle-free and socially conducive learning environment for their children. They have failed an entire generation and need to rectify an injustice by creating policies that protect our inherent individuality. If you sign and share this petition, you are charging our government with putting our racist colonizers to shame and abolishing colonial rhetoric that heavily impacts out social lives and well-being.
-All school administrations need to be sat down and educated on how better to handle their phobia of black hair in order to reduce discrimination against native African students and their hair. They should listen to millennials themselves and work together towards a common solution as opposed to the top-down approach of administering that has oh so clearly failed.
-Parents should be charged with making an actual effort to listen to what their children actually need as opposed to arrogantly assuming that they know what their children need. Stop projecting. Start listening. Do not force a child to cut their hair because I promise you, they will resent you one way or another. Work with them instead of fighting them. Support them to stand up against the system. Actually if every willing child supported by their parents could go school with hair on their heads, neatly cared for and make a bold statement against oppression, then all the better. Don’t cut off your hair because #black hair matters.
-School old boy and old girl associations should make an actual effort to served the students of their former school. Right now, it is all lip and no service. I charge NOGA, and I charge UMOSAN, two alumni bodies of which I am an affiliate to hear the pleas of their OGs AND OBs and to magnify their plight so as to achieve a lasting solution.
-Human rights organizations like Plan international and UNICEF who claim to have an interest in protecting children should be charged with assessing the psychological damage wrought onto millions of helpless children and should act accordingly to abolish the unfair systems in place
Supporting Africanicity means supporting All things BLACK. Including our hair! Sign and share this petition to Abolish the false slave rhetoric on African hair.
Say it loud. Say it proud.
#BLACK HAIR MATTERS.
- The Ugandan Ministry of Education.
- Namagunga Old Girls Association
- Uganda Martyrs Old Students Association
- H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni