My youngest sister, Mbali, will be a grown up soon- she is going to high school in a few months. I am quite excited for her; my parents will have one more stubborn human being to deal with and support as she endeavors with high school.
I am proud that she will be venturing into a make-or-break phase of her life, which five of her older siblings have gone through decades before her. I am also scared and worried for her. She is young, smart, ambitious, beautiful and tenacious. I know she will meet someone, fall in love and become secretive.
I am scared that she has to twist herself into shapes so that she can be accepted and she might become a square cube in a round hole.
I am scared that my little smart, ambitious, tenacious and gifted sister might be refused admission because she has dreadlocks. A lot of high schools in South Africa force students to cut their dreadlocks because they are “unacceptable”. Students are ridiculed and humiliated in front of other students and teachers because their hair is “dirty” and “untidy”. No one says anything about it. It is acceptable to do so.
It is argued that South African schools have transformed since the dawn of democracy but the “acceptable” hair for girls is tied-back pony tails with straightened hair and a bald head for boys.
We live in a country that wants to preserve its heritage but it embraces and adores institutional ideals that are rooted in apartheid tenets and the oppression of black men and women; and looks down on key things that make up our heritage- our identity and our culture; dreadlocks.
Our country adores students with blonde colored and straightened hair but looks down upon those who embody the black South African heritage by locking their hair. I am scared that she will constantly explain herself to her peers why at age eleven, she chose kinky and dreadlocked hair instead of continuing with saturating her hair with straighteners and hair line murderers. Above all, I am terribly worried that she will be surrounded by ponytail hair looking people and classify them as beautiful and forget that she too, is beautiful in her non-extended hair and black skin.
It is worrisome that the black people have been made to forget their heritage and even ridicule those who choose to embrace it. It frightening that the ignorance of our identity is likened with transformation and progress yet we lose who we truly are. It is worrying that a country that so desires the emancipation of a black people does not allow us to feel liberated in our own skin.
I do not blame the teachers who will force Mbali to cut her hair. In all honesty, I feel bad for them. I feel bad that they have allowed white supremacy to creep into their institution and overlook the black identity. I feel exceptionally awful and worried for them because they are fueling a vehicle that has distorted, disfigured and destroyed their identity as a people.
If dreadlocks are “dirty” and “untidy”, then so are the black people and our culture. Should we keep quiet and not act whilst such creeps into [our] institutions?