Abolish anti-Blackness: Hair and racism in South Africa
In September, common South African well being and wonder retailer Clicks sparked widespread anger after publishing an commercial that strengthened Eurocentric magnificence requirements in a rustic nonetheless struggling the consequences of its painful racist previous.
The on-line commercial, commissioned by TRESemme, a haircare model below Unilever, portrayed photographs of Black girls with pure hair captioned by the phrases “dry & damaged” and “frizzy & dull”. While on the other facet of the spectrum, it showcased white girls with hair it referred to as “normal” and “fine & flat”.
People have been outraged; indignant posts stuffed social media, crowds gathered to protest outdoors Clicks shops, and hundreds referred to as the corporate out for discrimination. Many others shrugged off the anger as only a “hair issue”, however the commercial was far more than that. It was blatantly racist – a direct reinforcement of the anti-Blackness constructed by colonisation, that stripped Black folks of their human dignity by positioning Blackness as “abnormal” in relation to whiteness.
This is one thing that stretches again to the 1600s when European colonisers used whiteness because the mannequin of humanity and deemed Blackness as inferior – an concept that grew to become deeply embedded within the minds of each Black and white folks over the centuries.
The racism within the Clicks commercial – simply the newest public iteration of the messaging that Black girls are pressured to face each day – took me again 4 years to the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh motion, which I co-founded in 2016.
As Black pupils at Pretoria High School For Girls – a traditionally whites-only establishment – we protested towards the college’s racist insurance policies, beginning with its hair coverage that favoured whiteness in its framing of neatness and professionalism.
The coverage said that every one hairstyles needed to be “conservative, neat and tied at the nape of the neck” whereas braids needed to be “1cm in diameter”. No allowances have been made for pure Black hair, like Afro hair, which was verbally prohibited by the headmistress on the time. “Afros and dreadlocks are not permitted in Girls High,” she had stated.
Beyond the insurance policies themselves, the enforcement of those guidelines had echoes of apartheid-style policing: Institutional white authorities – on this case, academics – would use derogatory phrases together with the “K-word” – South Africa’s equal of the N-word – towards Black women, describing Black hair as “dirty, untidy, demonic, uncontrollable”, and likening it to a fowl’s nest.
At the time, the college prohibited the usage of Indigenous African languages by Black women when talking to one another. Informally, it additionally prohibited Black women gathering in teams by asking us to disperse and accusing us of “conspiring” towards the establishment, and it clamped down on pupils addressing the existence of white privilege within the establishment by giving us warnings, demerits or detention once we raised the subject of racism inside the faculty. These have been all points our motion protested towards.
In the early Nineties, when South African faculties first desegregated, Pretoria Girls High and plenty of different white establishments opened their gates to different races. But the dominant Eurocentric tradition of those faculties was not so simply modified. Black youngsters who walked into these traditionally white areas searching for the “quality education” that was not afforded their dad and mom’ technology, left carrying massive quantities of trauma due to the unequal remedy, exclusion, and discriminatory cultural requirements they have been pressured to endure.
When our motion referred to as out the racist insurance policies at our college and took it a step additional to advocate for the decolonisation of South Africa’s wider primary training sector, the message gained traction with younger Black folks in faculties throughout the nation.
From wider discriminatory hair insurance policies that finally pressure us to erase our Blackness, to the exclusion of our African languages in class topics and recess areas, to the Eurocentric syllabus which – ranging from kindergarten – is the primary type of indoctrination that socialises us to view our Blackness as inferior by instructing us that “skin colour” is “light peach” and exhibiting us e-book characters who’re largely blonde and blue-eyed, the problems resonated with each Black baby who has been subjected to harsh institutionalised racism in school.
This whereas the geospatial divides in South African training additionally reinforce systemic racism: Black faculties in townships and rural areas are left to crumble with insufficient entry to assets, whereas traditionally white establishments prosper with first-class assets and prestigious bodily and monetary situations.
And all of this has been allowed to happen within the “democratic” Republic of South Africa, which gained some positive aspects on the finish of apartheid in 1994 – such because the trade of political energy and the erasure of racist legal guidelines – however has not but eradicated the programs it entrenched.
Decades for the reason that finish of apartheid rule, and 4 years on from the motion at Pretoria Girls High, the Clicks incident once more raises questions on why Black our bodies proceed to be disrespected and the way a direct insult to Black lives is ready to make its strategy to publication in 2020, in a rustic that’s majority Black.
Sadly, the fact is that South Africa has deep unresolved socioeconomic racial tensions that stem from the negotiated transition from apartheid to “democracy” – a divide that has prevented it from totally arriving on the “post-apartheid” vacation spot it promised within the early Nineties.
The system of apartheid that was as soon as constitutionalised didn’t finish simply because the legislation modified in 1994. Instead, it was privatised and institutionalised – and its results proceed to negatively form the lives of Black folks socially, politically and economically. Although the political system was reformed, it means nothing with no shift in financial energy and radical social change. Without the whole abolition of the programs apartheid created, the constructions that separate Black folks from equal alternatives, training, employment and entry to wealth and land will live on.
The Clicks commercial is a glimpse of this privatised type of apartheid – an area the place the system has not been fully annihilated, and the place the racially exclusionary basis constructed by the apartheid regime stays lively within the company and training enviornment.
Systemic energy in South Africa’s company sector nonetheless predominantly lies within the arms of white males. White folks make up about 8 p.c of South Africa’s economically lively inhabitants, however occupy 65 p.c of prime administration positions. In distinction, Black Africans who’re about 79 p.c of economically lively folks comprise 15 p.c of prime administration positions, in response to a 2019 report from the nation’s Commission for Employment Equity.
After greater than 400 years of historic white rule in South Africa, the dominant voice on the decision-making desk remains to be white and, whether or not by default or design, nonetheless speaks to the pursuits of whiteness. Black girls make up 36 p.c of South Africa’s economically lively inhabitants, a major quantity that ought to see themselves current in company boardrooms and higher represented within the selections companies make. Yet the publication of such a tone-deaf commercial portrays the evident lack of Black feminine illustration within the advertising and marketing sector and the mainstream magnificence business. If it have been extra numerous and inclusive, it might have been capable of higher mirror Clicks’s customers – nearly all of them younger, Black girls.
Accountability and justice
In response to the nationwide outrage sparked by the commercial, Clicks, TRESemme, and Unilever issued public apologies. However, these apologies weren’t accompanied by enough accountability, equivalent to disclosing the names of these chargeable for the commercial, dismissing the workers accountable, or disclosing the demographic illustration of their firms’ boards – calls for that have been made by many activists, members of the general public, and the opposition political social gathering the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Unilever admitted publicly via its social media platforms that the commercial was racist however nonetheless refused to call these accountable, which confirmed no will to carry those that perpetuate racism accountable for his or her actions. In a nutshell, what the corporate did was pure “damage control” for his or her model, as their apologies weren’t accompanied by any actual accountability.
Similarly, within the wake of our 2016 protests at Pretoria Girls High, there was no accountability by the educators who perpetuated racism and no justice for the pupils who have been victims of the human rights violations that happened. Although there was an investigation into the college’s racist insurance policies in 2016, then, like now, the outcomes labored in favour of the establishment.
The investigation concluded that the insurance policies have been certainly racist, however what adopted was a reform of the hair coverage, slightly than the whole abolition of the existence of a hair coverage, as we had been calling for – for the reason that mere existence of a “hair policy” permits room for discrimination by granting a handful of – often non-Black – folks energy over the expression of Black African id.
Meanwhile, the precise educators who enforced these racist insurance policies and perpetuated racism weren’t held accountable for his or her actions. It was argued that pupils didn’t have substantial proof of the racist incidents they reported – incidents which often happened when pupils have been left alone with the racist educator. In the top, the academics’ identities have been saved hidden to guard them.
In each circumstances, the college protests and the fallout from the Clicks commercial, accountability by these accountable is vital to assist pave the way in which in direction of justice. Because with out it, we permit direct insults to Blackness to be ignored, as soon as once more undermining the arrogance and personhood that Black folks have spent generations combating to reaffirm.
Decolonise the system
Some have attributed the Clicks incident to the “unconscious bias” of the businesses concerned, in an effort to justify the commercial. But the hazard of naming it that signifies that these accountable are usually not held accountable, and we stay blindfolded to the tough, long-lasting results of colonisation and apartheid that South Africans proceed to grapple with.
It isn’t any shock that racists persist of their dangerous behaviour in direction of Black folks since there are not any harsh penalties or programs put in place to carry them accountable for his or her actions and to serve justice to victims of racial discrimination. This itself is because of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, a course of which was not targeted on the whole abolition of all programs architected by the apartheid regime.
As a outcome, South Africa is politically remodeled; but economically and socially, our programs proceed to advance the lives of white folks over Black folks – granting them on a regular basis socioeconomic privileges equivalent to higher entry to alternatives, high quality training, wealth and capital, employment, and illustration in each side of society from the office to the mainstream magnificence business to establishments sanctioned by the state.
Over the years, a lot of the response to racism has been reactionary. But in searching for to abolish the constructions that drawback Black South Africans, we must be actively anti-racist day-after-day, working to construct inclusive programs created by us, and for us which can advance Black communities in each side.
The “norm” and normal of whiteness was traditionally used as a device to plant self-hatred in Black folks – and its results have been long-lasting. Even within the twenty first century in a South Africa “freed” from the bodily shackles of apartheid, the nation remains to be ruled by components of white aesthetics and dynamics of anti-Blackness.
This raises the pressing want for decolonisation as a method for Black South Africans to free ourselves psychologically and reclaim our identities. We have been socialised to be reliant on white approval, which has led to our steady assist of white entities and companies like Clicks, which serve no goal in empowering and uplifting Black folks and our identities. But we are able to make a change by putting emphasis on supporting Black companies and calling for the whole abolition of the man-made, socioeconomic programs of racial inequality that exist because of apartheid, and proceed to drawback Blackness whereas advancing whiteness.
The Clicks commercial is far deeper than only a “hair issue”.
It is a glimpse on the systemic racism that exists in South Africa immediately, and a reminder that it’s time to abolish the programs architected by apartheid, and now not simply reform them.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.