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It’s black people who have always made me feel bad about my hair

by: Ziyanda Mhlungu - 30 August 2016


The #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh story has brought back high school memories of being treated different because of my hair. But in my case, it was black teachers and friends who made me feel bad about my hair.


Why is the way my hair grows out of my scalp considered a problem?

In grade 11, a black teacher told me I looked nicer with relaxed hair. At the time I took it as a compliment without realising it wasn’t meant as one.

As my friends and I were preparing for this year’s Durban July, some of them asked when I would be doing my hair. And I got shocked looks when I expressed that I would be partying in my afro. Some accepted this with a smirk, while others asked, with concern, why I wanted to go with my natural hair to such a big event. I tried to explain, in my calmest tone, even though I was annoyed, that my hair was done and I didn’t need to do anything else to it.

Two weeks later, at a young chill with friends, I got called Banyana Banyana. The person who came up with the nickname said my hair reminded him of our female national soccer team players.


I get insults disguised as compliments

I had spent close to an hour doing my Bantu-knots the previous night and 15 minutes undoing them the next morning, so my hair was looking nice. I was feeling myself that day, and here were people making fun of my hair. As confident as I had been with my natural crown, these people actually made me feel like I was having a bad hair day.

Sometimes I meet people who seem to “love” my hair, and applaud me for it like I have just won Miss South Africa. I get compliments from guys who say they want to date me just because I’m not wearing a weave not realising they are being as offensive as everyone else. To me, that’s the same as the guy who doesn’t want to date me because I choose to keep my nappy coils.

The worst kind of these “compliments” comes from the women who tell me they love how brave I am for being natural, as if wearing one’s own hair is like being on Fear Factor.


I still love my natural hair

Seeing the pictures on social media of the teenage girls at Pretoria High School for Girls just goes to show all these problems start with whiteness. How one is considered more beautiful the closer their features are to those of white people whether it’s a smaller nose or waist. Even without white people present, one can still be made to feel inferior because that’s how whiteness operates.

I take my hat off to the 13- and 14-year-olds in Pretoria for taking a stand. And hopefully, in time, we’ll be allowed to wear our hair in whichever way we choose.