My skin, my hair

Guest blog post by Michelle De Leon, the founder of World Afro Day. Voice Community has backed World Afro Day’s call to action.

If my skin was my hair, what would you say?
If my skin was my hair, would your words be the same?
Spend some time in isolation, until your skin lightens up.
Spend some time in isolation, your skin is too much.
Spend some time in isolation, your skin is extreme.

If my skin was my hair, what would you say?
If my skin was my hair, would your words be the same?
Go home now, you can’t stay here.
Your skin it distracts and causes a stare.
Can you dial it down or pull it back?
I just have to say, your skin is too black.

If my skin was my hair, what would you say?
If my skin was my hair, would your words be the same?
That type of skin will have trouble at work,
That type of skin is too hard to fit in.
Your skin is too different, it breaks all the rules,
Your dark brown complexion, causes problems at schools.

If my skin was my hair, what would you say?
If my skin was my hair, would your words be the same?
I think that skin, looks like it’s a gang,
I think that skin, just can’t even hang
I think that skin is too short and too strong.
I think that skin just doesn’t belong.

I hope the poem above has made you reflect on the close link between Afro hair, skin and belonging? This deep connection needs to be made clear because the rejection of Afro hair, has created a hostile environment in too many British schools.

My skin and my hair are equally me and are clear markers for my identity and race. Afro hair has been discriminated against in addition to and separately to our brown skin for centuries.

I founded World Afro Day in 2017 to overcome this, however the main thing to understand is that rejection of our Afro hair (in all its styles) is a rejection of our race; just the way rejecting the colour of our skin is a rejection of our race. This separation of hair and skin in the education system has caused damaging hair policies. Skin and hair are part of the same body and black children, who are not accepted at school; can feel the detrimental consequences for the rest of their lives.

Even five years old Josiah Sharpe, reacted to his hair punishments at school in this way:

“I don’t want to be black anymore if school doesn’t like my hair.”

How can a child flourish in this atmosphere?

The Hair Equality Report supported by De Montfort University, found that one in six children with Afro hair at school is having a bad experience because of their Afro hair. If hair and skin are part of the same child’s body, why would they not see a rejection of their hair as a rejection of who they are?

Many hair policies are not equal for all children. They are really based on racial ‘norms’ (caucasian hair) and imposing those standards from the dominant group onto the minority group (Afro hair). Eurocentric versus Afrocentric hair standards. Another learning point is many Afro hair styles are unisex e.g. Afro, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks and even short fades are worn by men and women. School hair policies are overwhelmingly gender based.

World Afro Day is working to educate teachers and close the empathy gap around Afro hair.  Hair is a very deep issue for many black people and it affects them economically, psychologically, culturally and spiritually. Historically as a race of people, there is no aspect of our being, where our hair has not had a deep impact on how we experience life, especially girls and women. If you don’t have Afro hair, there is no parallel, this is not your experience at all.

We believe that there can be a happy ending to this story, where hair discrimination can be assigned to history. We hope that more teachers can have better relationships with black pupils, built on respect and acceptance of physical differences. Plus, think of all the time that can be put back into education, instead of hair policing.

We know that teachers are under tremendous pressure and we all need something positive to focus on, which is good for our mental health; so we will be bringing back The Big Hair Assembly. The free event will be hosted in London and live streamed internationally. The assembly will provide resources and training for teachers and empowerment and equality for young people.  Students, schools and families from around the world, will have a chance to take part in the activities or just watch on the day.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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