Talking black hair politics

by | Dec 4, 2015 | News

Aresell Joseph
Senior Reporter

The first event of Humber’s Black Students’ Association (BSA) put the focus on creating a healthy dialogue and discourse when it comes to black hair.

“We all know that when it comes to natural hair, or the natural hair movement, the American society really dominates that dialogue,” said BSA President Lakeisha Ferreira at the event named Black Hair & Politics, held on Nov. 18 at North campus.

“However, when you look at Toronto, you see a large percentage of black individuals,” she said.

Some women prefer having natural hair, typically kinky, and that it’s not to be pro-black or to make a statement. But they still do end being judged based on their appearance, she said.

“It’s great to know more information on how people interact with black people, especially when our hair is natural,” said Ferreira.

Event guest speaker Shaunasea Brown, who is completing her master’s degree at York University, said her dissertation focuses on the politics of black women’s hair in Canada.

Brown said her research has been influenced by her own experience going natural.

“I had to stop perming my hair,” said Brown. “Then I had an appointment and didn’t feel comfortable leaving my house the way my hair was.”

Brown said some people straighten the kinks in their hair because of self-esteem issues and societal pressures.

“Take into (account) the historical accounts of race,” said Brown. “There was once a time when blacks were seen as inferior to whites.”

She said some young women are afraid to leave their house with their natural hair in an Afro or without their permed hair, weaves and braids because they feel unattractive.

Brown said reading Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon’s 1952 colonial domination study Black Skin, White Masks, gave her an awakening about the kinks in her hair.

Society doesn’t make it easy to be a black female with natural hair, but more and more people are using social media to express their displeasure with Eurocentric constructs of black hair, she said.

In her talk, Brown spoke of a case study from North York’s Amesbury Middle School.

In early November, a black principal there spoke to a student about her “poofy” hairstyle.

The girl’s enraged aunt instantly took to social media, gaining media attention from both the Huffington Post and City News.

“I wake up this morning to my sister telling me that my wonderful, beautiful niece was told that she needs to change her hair at school,” posted Kaysie Quansah on Facebook.

“This ignorant principal demonstrated firsthand the heartbreaking ideals of beauty that are forced on our little dark skinned black girls on a consistent basis,” she said.

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Communication officer Ryan Bird told the Huffington Post that TDSB officials were aware of the principal’s statements.

“The school and superintendent are following up with the family to address any concerns they may have,” Bird said. “Hair is not covered by the TDSB or school’s dress code.