Parents, Support the PUFF!

AfroIn case you haven’t heard about it already, this week, a group of Black female students have been reprimanded for wearing their hair naturally, only this time in the Bahamas (sparking online outrage via the #supportthepuff or #isupportthepuff hashtags). Of course, this type of sanctioning is nothing new; there have been a number of other cases where natural-haired Black children have faced punishment at school for either wearing their hair out, in braids, or in locks. It seems like, for many, Black hair is not considered “school-appropriate” (or work-appropriate) unless it’s flat-ironed or permed, which I think is ridiculous.  But what I find most offensive about these incidents is that, in many cases, the disdain for natural hair is coming from fellow Black people! Alas, the oppressed have now become the oppressor!

So, why is this happening?  It is important to keep in mind that this notion of natural Black hair being “unruly”, “untidy” or “unkempt” by default is one that dates back to slavery, and has been ingrained in our psyche ever since. Negative rhetoric about African hair was used against slaves to rob them of their dignity and humanity, especially since hair design and care were integral cultural practices within African societies. Since slavery days, hair politics of this sort (in conjunction with colourism) have played an important role in constructing “otherness” as it pertains to Black people in society; and it has been perpetuated both within the Black community as well as through the media and social institutions.  This is why in 2016, girls are being threatened with suspension from school for wearing their natural hair, in spite of the Natural Hair Movement.  It is clear that Black hair is still considered an affront to mainstream culture.

Therefore, in a world that continues to make it hard for people of colour to feel comfortable in our own skin, I am urging parents and guardians of Black children to please

Support The PUFF:

Pride – We need to encourage our children to feel a sense of pride about their natural hair. After all, this is how their hair grows out of their heads. So why shouldn’t they be proud of it? Our hair texture and our hairstyles connect us to our rich African ancestry. Before slavery (and colonialism), African peoples took great pride in their hair. Back then, If you had a massive halo of Afro hair, it was a sign of good health and beauty! Moreover, African hairstyling was more than just hair maintenance: each hairstyle had significance and carried important messages about its wearer. Hairstyling was a revered occupation; and African hairstyles were (and still are) art.

Uniqueness – We should teach our children to celebrate the uniqueness of their natural hair. We all recognize that Black hair is different from everyone else’s, but that does’t mean that it’s deficient. Our hair can do things that other types of hair cannot: when it’s styled, it keeps its form and it can be sculpted into various shapes and designs. Not to mention the phenomenon of shrinkage—imagine, you can have long hair and short hair at the same time! It’s time for us to celebrate the unique properties of our hair, and to teach the next generation to do the same.

Freedom – We need to help our children embrace the freedom that comes from not feeling the need to conform to a straight- or long-haired aesthetic. Part of the reason why we often experience so much frustration with our hair is because we try to make it do things that it’s not supposed to do! [For more on this topic, check out Tress Stress – Pt. I: Have you ever tried to straighten a slinky?] When our hair is straightened, we try to avoid water like the plague—whether from sweating, showering, or the rain! And then when we decide to go natural, we try to get our hair to look like someone else’s—whether it’s trying to attain their definition, length, or curl pattern! If we would just accept our hair the way it is, and play to its strengths, we would be free to just be!

Fellowship – We should engage in the fellowship of the ever-growing community of naturalistas and natural hair lovers and allies. Thanks to the internet and social media, there is now a wealth of information, advice, and support to help our children wear their hair natural with ease—all available at our fingertips. There is no longer a need a to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by our hair care woes. We can find strength in each other!

So, together, let’s support the pride, uniqueness, freedom and fellowship that can come from wearing our hair naturally! Our children need to grow up knowing that they are beautifulexactly the way they are! And if we don’t tell them, nobody else will.

 

Sources:

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps.

What will you do to #supportthepuff?

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Parents, Support the PUFF!

  1. Youli says:

    The issue at hand is what styling or lack there of is appropriate for school. The natural hair community is NEVER going to agree as to what is appropriate for school and work. No one said the girl(s) where not allowed to where their hair naturally. Natural is the norm in the Bahamas for most school aged girls. These girls still wear uniforms to school and there is a dress code which indicates what styles are appropriate. Neat and un-kept are subjective. The school has a right to say what styling is appropriate for a school aged girl to wear. We need to stop assuming that every criticism of of natural hair is an out right attack.

    I’ve been natural for all of my 17 years and attended school with other natural girls and we never had an issue. High puffs are not allowed. Hair needs to be pulled back or in a bun. Even girls with straight hair couldn’t wear their hair out on their shoulders, it had to be pulled up. Some hair styles are for going out and so on and others are for school..

    People also need to understand the school culture in the Caribbean and know it is different from that in the US and not be so quick to judge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ndijaanderson says:

      Thanks for your comment, Youli. It’s good to know that Bahamian girls are allowed to wear their natural hair to school. However, as you pointed out, there does seem to be an issue with the high puff hairstyle, in particular. More specifically, Principal T. Nicola McKay of C.R. Walker High School stated that the high puff hairstyle was “untidy, un-groomed, un-kept and looks like it hasn’t been combed in days”.

      In my opinion, it seems as though Principal McKay’s displeasure about the hairstyle was less about the students not following school rules and more about her disdain for how natural or puffy hair looks; by stating that she is trying to prepare her students for the job market, Principal McKay further implies that she believes that wearing a puff (or an afro, even) is not “work-appropriate”.

      And this is where the problem lies: WHY is there this underlying notion in society- whether in the Caribbean, Canada (where I am from), the United States, or elsewhere- that puffy hair is not “professional”? It is clear that our perception of what is work-appropriate has been (and continues to be) shaped by a straight-haired aesthetic, which I believe needs to be unpacked. If “neatness” was really the issue here, why is it that the high puff is not school-appropriate, given that the criteria is for the hair to be pulled back [off of the face]? A secondary question I would ask is whether girls with straight hair are allowed to wear ponytails; and, if so, are girls with natural hair allowed to wear puffs at the back of their heads, or afro puffs?

      I would like you to know that my intent was not to come from a place of judgment against Caribbean culture- I am a person of Caribbean descent. These questions are not specific to one region: these are questions which are now being asked in all areas of the Diaspora where students and people in the workforce are facing discrimination for wearing “natural” hairstyles, whether puffs, locks, or braids. Why is it that our hair, the way that it naturally comes out of our scalps, is considered to be unprofessional, by default?

      Like

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