Some South African Schools Still Have “Blatantly Racist” Dress Codes — Here’s How to Fix It

Reflecting on the global status of the fight against race-based hair discrimination, Patel says she has seen progress in individuals who are resisting these age-old practices, along with some policy changes and a push to better address the issue of texturism in Black communities. “I’ve seen a shift whereby all [types of] Afros are being celebrated. There isn’t just one blueprint for Black hair,” she says.

She also mentions that to move forward and fight for the acceptance of natural hair around the world, we must take an intersectional approach to the matter. She explains that Black people globally must stand together while also acknowledging the different forms of oppression we encounter based on the countries we reside in and the detrimental impact of colonization on different regions. In general, remnants of colonial thinking are still very much alive, even in majority-Black countries, such as Jamaica and South Africa. White supremacy can sustain itself, even in places with a Black majority population. The programming is real, intense, and devastating.

Although South Africa does not have specific legislation in place that visibly highlights hair discrimination like the CROWN Act, the country outlaws discrimination, based on grounds like sex, race, ethnicity, culture, and age, among other factors. One of the arguments Patel and her peers used years back to further their call for change at their school was that its hair policy hindered their form of cultural expression and that it is essentially unconstitutional.

“I believe that it’s much more of an institutionalized problem in South Africa, given that the constitution in one way or another, essentially does outline the main points of the CROWN Act,” she says.

Anti-Blackness in Beauty

Though Patel’s fight started in school, she’s now also focused on the more casual forms of racism that pervade broader parts of everyday life. So when the topic of racism in the beauty industry is brought up, Patel remarks on an issue in South Africa that will resonate with many Black people in the U.S. as well: the tendency for some stores to segregate Black hair products from all others. “When you walk into a beauty retailer, as a Black person, you’re not going to find your hair products in the front, you have to walk to the back of the store.” This, she says, shows that the retailers don’t think of products for kinkier hair textures as “mainstream.”

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