For today's Junior and Senior assemblies after a sing along with Mr Westall, our pupils had a wonderful assembly led by Miss Higgin to celebrate World Afro Day.
Unbeknown to many, today is World Afro Day, a day to educate and celebrate Afro hair. Endorsed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the organisation works to fight against the discrimination of Afro hair, as well as producing resources to empower people with Afro hair and raising awareness in wider society.
Marking the 5th anniversary of World Afro Day, the organisation has once again created ‘The Big Hair Assembly’ a live stream event that allows schools from all over the world to congregate. An educational event involving people from all backgrounds, who come together to celebrate Afro hair, identity and equality. The purpose of the assembly is to try and change the negative attitudes Afro hair often faces, and turn these into a positive force for inclusion.
Though at TN we did not watch the live stream assembly, Miss Higgin put together two incredible presentations for both Juniors and Seniors. Our pupils saw examples of traditionally European or white hairstyles, for example pigtails, ponytail, plaits, quiffs. In comparison to traditional Afro hairstyles, for example, dreadlocks, braids, high-tops, afros. Children then learnt these hairstyles are often deemed ‘not suitable’ for school or work and how this hair texture can be discriminated against. How uncomfortable people are made to feel when others touch their hair without permission.
The assembly was hosted from the UK and USA by Yolanda Brown (UK) and Tashara Parker (USA), and featured an exclusive performance from ballerina Tais Vinolo, who also shared her Afro hair story. Alice Dearing, the first black female swimmer to represent Britain at the Olympics, who is also the co-founder of the Black Swimming Association also contributed.
Prior to the live stream assembly the athletes shared why partaking in World Afro Day is important to them. Vinolo stated that “by sharing my story with my generation and younger children with Afro hair, I can bring attention to what it’s like to grow up with a lack of representation.” and Dearing shared “For me personally, afro hair has been a journey of learning self love and flourishing along with my hair. My hope is that now and in the future all girls and boys blessed with afro hair will know their coils and curls are beautiful."
Michelle De Leon, the founder of World Afro Day chose September 15th after the state of Alabama passed a law that allowed companies to deny jobs to people with dreadlocks in 2016. Since then De Leon and Denese Chikwendu published a report called the ‘Hair Equality Report’, which aims to provide evidence to measure the amount of hair discrimination within schools, how pupils are effected by this and conclude what actions can be taken to change this. So why is this so important? Because there is a huge lack of awareness regarding this discrimination within Governing bodies, school authorities and the general public. De Leon and Chikwendu have created the evidence needed to support the call for change and education.
The global discussion of the negative bias against Afro hair has been gaining momentum, within this some of the points being raised is the discrimination against children.
In Joseph-Salisbury’s 2020 report ‘Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools’ he writes that “[...] school grooming policies, on the surface, appear to be race-neutral, but in fact can discriminate against BME students. It draws attention to recent cases of Black students being excluded due to their hair not meeting school uniform requirements and notes that grooming policies are often shaped by racialised value judgements on what is ‘neat’, ‘tidy’ and ‘acceptable.” In Salisbury’s 2019 report ‘Hair Equality’ his findings revealed that black and mixed-race children are under constant pressure to fit into a school and a society that doesn’t understand or value their Afro hair. School is the number one environment that has an influence on attitudes. 41% of children with Afro hair want to change their hair from curly to straight. The survey results show that 1 in 6 children are having a bad or very bad experience at school connected to their Afro-textured hair and identity.
To summarize, the bias against Afro hair, not just in schools but society as a whole, causes exclusion and feelings of inferiority. This issue is deeper than just the perception of a person's hair, as it has a huge impact on both health and economic opportunity, especially for Black women who are pressured to conform to society's norms. Because straight hair is seen as the vision of both success and beauty, and is widely seen in popular culture, advertisement and social media.
Some resources for children: