I had an unfortunate meeting at my daughter’s school this morning. Last week she went in with a twist out which I pinned up for her in the morning. Her hair was let down just as seen in the pictures above and below. When she got home, it was tied up in a bun, so I casually asked why she decided to put it up, she said she did so because her teacher said there was an Ofsted inspection that morning, and her hair looked “wild”. I was horrified when I heard the word “wild” I said “did she use the word wild”? My daughter said yes. I was livid!!!’ I didn’t want my daughter to know I was that upset so I shut went upstairs, fuming, I sat down and I wrote to the teacher expressing my dissatisfaction.
The school called me and we fixed a meeting with the Head teacher and the teacher in question. Sadly, I left feeling more frustrated than appeased. The Head teacher said I was the one that had a problem with the use of the term “wild”. She kept saying she described her own hair as wild frequently and saw no issue with it. She actually expressed her dissatisfaction with my own my letter, because I said “the school had an issue and history of not understanding Afro hair” ( they do ). She said this statement suggested that I was calling the school racist, or prejudice, when at least 2 of her close family members were married to Jamaicans, She said she understands Afro hair and I shouldn’t have brought race into it.
My good God!!!!! I was flabbergasted and completely certain that this school needed a diversity awareness course. Firstly, the term ” wild” conjures up unruly, unsightly and animalistic. Something that needs to be tamed. All of which my daughter’s hair was not on the day, and all of which shows an unconscious bias around what is deemed appropriate, or presentable according to a perception that bears no relation to the characteristics of an afro hair. This unconscious bias was slipping through in loose and derogatory language and it is the language which I sought to address.
I expressed in no uncertain term that I really didn’t care if the Head teacher described her own hair as wild, I do not want that term used to describe my daughter’s hair. Afro hair texture is not smooth or sleek in the way that Caucasian hair is. It grows up and not down and although it can be chemically straightened to look sleeker, lay flat, and look more European this is not a choice I’ll ever choose for my daughter, or indeed my own hair. I love Afro texture hair, I love it with its kinks, curls, coils and volume. When she was going to school that morning I brushed her hair, and I personally put two pins in her hair and sent her off saying your hair looks beautiful and she replied ” I really like it”. Now to those of you raising little black girls you know what an achievement it is to get them to the point where they “love” their natural hair.
We live in a society that has historically not appreciated the difference and beauty in Afro hair texture. This is not an indictment on the society, because even in many African countries it is often not celebrated or held as up as an ideal beauty. I had to stop wearing weaves, and even braids to instil confidence in my own daughter’s hair, so yes I was not going to let a teacher kill her new found confidence with the careless and offensive use of the word “wild”.
People may say oh she didn’t mean to cause offence, but that is not the point, she did cause offence, and she refused throughout to apologise insisting that the hair was untidy. No. my dauther’s hair was not untidy. What is untidy is the ignorance that still abounds where afro hair is concerned. What is untidy is that a lot of black people have been complicit in the rhetoric that our hair, as it grows from our scalp is unmanageable, untidy, unruly and in need of ‘something’ to make it presentable and acceptable. And often that something just happens to look more European.
The use of the term ‘wild’ is loaded, full of so much value judgement and indeed micro aggression. It’s the exact type of word that chips away at the confidence of a 9 year old, it highlights their difference in an unflattering and negative way and subconsciously forces them to concede and accept that they do not fit the beauty ‘ideal’. It is a rhetoric that I will fight against, for the sake of my daughter and her place in this world. I do not care if other mothers do not see it or get it, because of course according to the school I’m a trouble maker, not said directly but the Head said on more than one occasion that I’m the only Afro Caribbean parent who seems to have an issue with hair. That hurt my feeling. It hurt my feeling because I remain acutely aware that I live in a society that can be unintentionally prejudice yet if I raise it, question it, or challenge it I will be accused of playing the race card, of being overly sensitive, or of having a chip on my shoulder.
Let me be clear, I did not and do not accuse the school of racism. No. Fadeke likes her form teacher very much and she has never expressed being treated differently. But how can race not play a role in the description of Afro hair as ‘wild’. That the school fail to see this, and would defend it is more disturbing. In the end the teacher said she didn’t mean to cause offence, and the Head said it was an unfortunate use of the word, but I was under no illusion, they didn’t get it. And that continues to upset me.
the picture of my daughter was taken on the exact same day.