I may be stating the seemingly obvious, however, in addition to the difference in skin colour, something else that typically distinguishes black people from people of other heritages is hair. While people of other heritages may have straight, wavy or curly strands; most black people have varying degrees of tightly cured strands its natural form. It can, however, be permed through a chemical process or straightened with curling tongs/combs to make it straight in appearance.

One of the great things about black people’s hair is how it can be made versatile.  In addition to wearing natural in various forms or perming it; amongst other things it can be weaved into cornrows or other scalp braids; extensions can be added to the hair or it can be covered with stylish wigs that often look natural. Not forgotten also, dreadlocks which are often associated with the Rastafarian religious movement.

In the past, in addition to an understanding of the culture of a child’s origin, one of the biggest challenges, when non-black people adopted or fostered black children, was the management of the children’s hair due to its difference. I’m pleased to say that with an increased understanding of the difference between black children’s hair this is now much less of a problem than it used to be.

There is, however, still some trouble with understanding and recognising the implications of the difference between the hair of black students and the hair of other students. There have been a number of cases over time where black boys have got into trouble in school because their hairstyle/length does not conform to school rules. The problem with this is that such rules are typically made on the basis of the nature of white people’s hair.

I first came across this challenge over 20 years ago when I was involved in a School Exclusion Panel in London.  A young black boy was under the threat of exclusion because his hair said to be too short.  The minimal hair was said originally aimed at preventing the skinhead culture in the school. It did not, however, take account of the fact that black hair is much easier to manage cut very low. A low cut having nothing to do with the skinhead culture.

I would have thought that there was a better understanding of black hair and it’s maintenance by now.  Sadly, it’s not always the case. I still read of cases of young black boys getting into trouble because of their hair.

This year I noticed that there is a World Afro Day on the 15th December. A great opportunity to celebrate black and specifically natural hair.


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Susan Popoola

Mosaic Fusions

Mosaic Fusions:

Author: Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain

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