You’ve either heard this story or experienced something similar before. You go to the passport office or RTSA to take a picture for your driving license and suddenly you have to account for your hairstyle which is probably the last thing on your mind.
The last time I went to take a passport sized photograph I had a proper afro. I mean power to the people 1960’s style Afro. Well, the photographer was not happy with this state of affairs and proceeded to attack me with one of those horrible plastic square brushes with the mirror on the side. I was ducking like a ninja. I wasn’t about to let him rip through my curls. Apparently he just wanted to make sure my ears showed which I suppose was fair enough but he could have given me some warning.
My story is ok because in the end I was allowed to have my now somewhat dishevelled looking afro portray my identity for the next ten years but others have been less fortunate. We have heard of women, especially those with locs told to wear wigs if they want to adhere to the rules and even more ridiculous one lady was told that she couldn’t have her Bantu knot out in a picture because, “it looked too much like a wig”. Then there is the plain old puzzling idea that you can have a weave in your picture but not braids. It’s all very confusing and the fact that these rules appear to be pretty much at the discretion of whichever official is at the counter on the day makes it more problematic. There is no sense of uniformity about what is and isn’t allowed and why.
It’s not just the government that gets worked up over our hair, it’s also schools and workplaces. Young girls are told they cannot have perfectly neat looking two strand twists in their hair because, “they look like locs”. Having rules about hairstyles is one thing but surely there is something wrong when girls are running around the playground with all sorts of extensions and a teacher tells a young girl to go home and undo twists done on her own natural hair. Bosses have been known to ask employees if they are, “too broke to do their hair”, when they walk in with their afros.
We decided that we needed to tell your stories. Document this assault on our natural hair. We have a few stories to begin with but we want to hear more from you. Have you had to defend your hairstyle at the passport office? Do the teachers at your daughter’s school or your own school frown at the sight of natural hair? Does your boss prefer a sleeker look?
Send your stories along with a picture of you holding up a sign with the hashtag #MyRealHair to firstname.lastname@example.org . Let’s expose this travesty together.