Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Whiteness and Black hair

One aspect of whiteness that is impossible to miss is the way Black hair is received, treated, experienced, controlled and blamed for all manner of disciplinary and professionalism issues. The image of professionalism is a white man with well-groomed hair in suit and tie in an office setting. The image of unprofessionalism is a Black woman with "natural" hair, regardless of whether or not she is in a suit, plain blouse, comfortable heels, in an office setting. That Back hair has nothing to do with whether or not one is able to execute their professional responsibilities well is irrelevant. We know what we know and that's the end of that.

Every now and then we are reminded of how much further we have to go as people to liberate ourselves from the shackles of whiteness. Just this week, a parent has reminded us that even our children, cute as they be, the loves of our lives, are not immune or immunisable from the whiteness that corrals the adults in their lives. His two years old son has been denied a place at a school because his hair does not "meet the standards" of the school. I know a dog whistle when I hear one and this one is as loud as a siren.

There is a certain type of school administrator that is incapable of seeing Black-ness as wholesome. He, or she, carries the enormous burden of erasing the Black-ness of a child to replace it with the whiteness of a "professional". It always begins with the child's hair. If it is "unkempt", it is wrong. If it is "too long", it is bad. If it is gathered as dreadlocks, it is wrong. In fact, if it is not close-cropped and brushed to a high sheen, it is wrong. It doesn't matter whether the child is a boy or a girl. If the hair is anything but that which is set by the school's standards, it is wrong - and it must be corrected, Or Else. Hence the never-ending wars between school administrators and parents over their children's attendance at school with the hair of the parents' choice. The wars of whiteness over Black-ness.

Some of you will argue, "If you knew what the school rules were, and you chose to enroll your child in that school, then you must conform to the school's rules. Otherwise, peleka mtoto shule ingine." Just like a man's inability to see his privilege in the patriarchy, so too the rule-enforcer's inability to see the pernicious, deleterious effect of whiteness on all our lives. Many of our experiences of whiteness are a series of prohibitions, the Black (human, really) things that we can't do. Things that if they were done by ypipo would not arouse comment, let alone sanction.

Hair is almost always the first thing whiteness denies Black persons. Hair must be treated to chemical or mechanical processes in order to conform to the world of whiteness. It is not acceptable even after all that chemical and mechanical manipulation - it is merely no longer objectionable. It is tolerable. It is the sun-bleached scar on alabaster skin that is not that bad. It makes whiteness feel better about itself. The world is ordered in its likeness - which is always the preferred way for the world to be ordered. And if it means that a child's social and cultural education is short-circuited, then so what?

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