'Don't touch my hair!' - tackling hair discrimination against black youngsters

Ashlee after spending three hours blow-drying and straightening her hair.

Ashlee after spending three hours blow-drying and straightening her hair. - Credit: Sarah Dickenson

Schools are facing increasing pressure to change their policies on black hairstyles in order to reflect its cultural significance and breakdown prejudices.

More than half of black children have been sent home from school due to wearing their hair naturally or in a protective style, according to a poll carried out by the Dove Self-Esteem Project in 2020.

And a recent review of the Equality Act has determined that hair discrimination is a form of racial discrimination and urgently requires legal recognition.

Last year a group of parliamentarians, organisations and writers urged the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ban hair discrimination in schools, places of work and wider society across the UK.

Three St Albans mums have spoken out about the humiliation and pain that is being caused by other pupils and teachers who are either ignorant or racist about black hair. 

Sarah Dickinson, mum to Paris, 14, and Ashlee, 13, said: "Being a white woman with mixed children is challenging enough, but when Paris' and Ashlee's hair started to grow I knew I was totally out of my depth.

"I had no idea what products to use, or how to properly take care of it. For a long time it was put in a bun and brushed with a 'normal' hair brush.

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"When one of my black friends starting making comments about their hair I was offended. I spent literally thousands on products, oils, creams, sprays, conditioners and de-tanglers."

Sarah said that her daughters would come home and say that people were touching their hair and making comments about it: "We spoke about it, and they realised that touching their hair is just the same and touching anywhere else on the body -  it's not OK."

She added: "Paris - having more Afro hair - was being called things like 'pineapple head' and other derogatory comments."

Paris told the Herts Ad: "I hate it when people put their dirty hands in my hair. I don't really care why they want to touch it - I don't want to be stroked like a dog or a cat. I used to let people do it even though I didn't want them to."

Another mum, who wants to remain anonymous, decided to contact this newspaper when her eight-year-old son said he "didn't want to be black anymore". 

Paris with her hair put up.

Paris with her hair put up. - Credit: Sarah Dickenson

She explained: "Schools in London seem to have addressed this issue. Here in Hertfordshire we are way behind in our conversations. In 2022 we should not still have to deal with the issue of uninvited petting. My child is not your dog. Ask questions by all means. My child should not be made to feel that they should allow people to touch them uninvited. That includes adults.

"What I would like to say to the heads of schools across St. Albans is that this is not a time to be complacent. It’s time to recognise your own fragility because ignoring the issues affecting your students causes further oppression, and can result in absenteeism. Listen and act on the information you are given. It is time to make real change.

"Black hair and the ways in which we wear it is a significant part of black culture."

Another parent contacted this newspaper as her child, who is black, was given a detention in Year 7 due to having the sides of his head shaved too short: "I was rudely dismissed when I called the school.," she said.

Barber Wayne Nembhard of Extreme Kutz in St Albans said people needed to understand the differences between hair types: "A number two for a white boy is different from a number two for a black person. If I use a number two on black hair it will look longer than on white hair.

"A certain age group aged 12-15 don't like being cut short on top, and some schools do not allow a skin fade which is a fashionable and cultural style."

We have attempted to speak to several primary and secondary schools for comment on their hair policies, but none have provided a statement.