Afro hair: interview with Emma Dabiri

Last February, the eighteen year old student Ruby Williams she was compensated with £ 8,500 following a three-year legal battle she waged against her school in east London, guilty of having sent her home several times because his afro hair did not comply with the school regulations. It seems absurd, but the problem in the United Kingdom has not yet been solved, and the expulsions from schools because of afro hair are growing rapidly.

Emma Dabiri, author of the incisor Don’t Touch My Hair of 2019 and teacher at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, is campaigning against the law currently in force in the United Kingdom concerning hair, collecting signatures to amend theEquality Act 2010. At the moment, this law contrasts discrimination based on color, nationality, national or ethnic origin, but hair – and in particular afro hair – are not mentioned among the “protected characteristics”. It is a shaded area that allows students and school staff to be reprimanded because of their hair. Dabiri, who is of mixed Nigerian and Irish origins, wants the law to be changed also because as a mother of two children she fears that they may one day clash with the same prejudice. “I have a seven-year-old son with a hair that caused others to be expelled,” he says Vogue. “I want things to change before I go to middle school.”

Dabiri hopes that his book, which illustrates the difficulties black people have faced because of their hair, will help change the rhetoric and discriminatory behavior towards afro hair.

Here, the author explains to Vogue why he is collecting signatures for the petition and why it is necessary to put an end to the distorted perception of afro hair.

What prompted you to conduct a campaign to amend the UK Equality Act 2010?

“Afro hair is often not taken into consideration because it is something that only concerns blacks. One of the topics that I advance in my book, Don’t Touch My Hair, is that hair is an indicator of African ancestry as much as the color of the skin, which means that it is a characteristic that makes us vulnerable to discrimination. That is why the law must make explicit reference to them; blacks have come to feel ashamed for their hair, as if they were abnormal or wrong. “

What is the size of the problem?

“The impression is that the expulsions from school are increasing, in part because of much stricter and stricter school regulations. Black people want to accept and celebrate their hair and school tries to tame this attitude. Furthermore the Natural Hair Movement, started around the 2010, has changed the norms, which means that there are now more students with afro hair and traditional African hairstyles, and this implies the emergence of more numerous conflicts around the issue. Most schools dictate collect hair, but it’s not easy to do with afro hair. I can collect mine only after having smoothed them or using a large quantity of products to fix them. If black people straighten their hair they will conform to policy school and the contrasts will decrease, but these are rules written by whites for whites. “

How do you think society sees black hair at the moment?

“On the one hand we see a greater variety of afro hair in more natural styles, they are much more represented in fashion and in the media. Thanks to social networks, the Natural Hair Movement and black activism, there was one normalization of afro hair in some areas. However, there is still a lot of discrimination regarding structurally frizzier and curly hair. Sometimes they are not defined as “beautiful hair” and the attitude about which type of natural hair is most desirable has not changed. “

His book, Don’t Touch My Hair, tells the story of afro hair and their stigma. What was it like for you to have afro hair at a young age?

“I lived in Ireland so there really wasn’t anyone around with hair similar to mine. The few times I saw them were mostly on TV. I remember when I was little I liked it [la cantante/rapper] Neneh Cherry, and also Ashley and Hilary from Willy, The Prince of Bel-Air, but they also had the hair that people expect mixed race people to have. I am of mixed race but as far as hair is concerned, I took the African part of my origins. And I remember thinking: “What’s wrong with my hair?”

Emma Dabiri, around 5 years old

© Photography courtesy of Emma Dabiri

“When I was about 10 years old, a friend suggested that I do one permanent that would have made my hair wavy with chemicals, but the woman who applied it left me for twice as long because she said my hair was ‘bristly’. In the end I had these long and silky waves but the next morning they came away in locks. That was the first time that I lost my hair and burned my scalp. A lot of trial and error followed and a lot of suffering for not being as I wanted to be. The first time I saw someone in the cinema with hair similar to mine was in 2014, when I was over 30; he was the protagonist of Terence Nance’s 2012 film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. “

What would black women think of their hair?

“Black women have been told what to do by so many different people for so long that the only thing I feel like telling them is do what they want. [I capelli afro] they are so beautiful, and have such a story behind them, made of creativity and self-expression. They were intentionally distorted and tried to convince us that our hair is ugly, but it is nonsense. ”

Shrinkage and versatility are just two of the best characteristics of afro hair. What is the thing you like most about your hair?

I have been wearing natural hair for almost 10 years and I’m still learning all I can do about it – the styles and methods for styling them are endless. The improvement of products and tools is a real godsend. The other day with a hairdryer I managed to straighten my hair in an instant. It took me all this time to start trying what many of my friends simply took for granted and I said to myself, ‘Wow, the world hasn’t really been designed for us or with our features in mind. “

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