Uniform policies at several of New Zealand’s premiere schools are being slammed as “racist” and “discriminatory” for prohibiting Afros, braids and other natural hairstyles common among people of African descent.
New Zealand outlet Stuff.co.nz reports that at least eight schools across the Pacific island nation share the controversial policies, including the Auckland Grammar School, Macleans College and Hastings Boys’ High School. Professor Camille Nakhid , who teaches at the Auckland University of Technology, argued that the policies are exclusionary in nature and yet another example of “institutional racism.”
“It excludes anyone who doesn’t fit a Eurocentric or European model,” Nakhid told the news site.
Principal Robert Sturch , who who heads the Hastings Boys’ school, denied this assertion, however, and said that prospective students who take issue with the uniform policies have the freedom to attend another school. Sturch insisted the ban on Afros hasn’t ever been a problem, but acknowledged that a prospective student once decided to go elsewhere after realizing his dreads “did not meet the standards of the school.”
Christiner Chan has spoken out against the policies, calling it “immoral” to shame Black children simply for the way their hair grows.
“It is like criminalizing a child that has no control over how his/her hair looks,” said Chan, who works with advocacy group African Communities Forum Inc. She added that youth of African descent are already surrounded by European beauty standards, and that shaming their natural hair could be damaging to their self-esteem.
According to recent census data, New Zealand’s population of African citizens is growing. In 2013, 13,464 people of African ethnicity were recorded, a significant 26 percent jump from 2006. Despite the increase, people of African descent made up less than 0.4 percent of the nation’s population by 2013.
Taffy Muyambo, whose daughter attends school in Auckland, said officials there have been “absolutely amazing” about her child’s hair. Although she’s the only African child at the school, Muyambo said school leaders have been willing to learn what works best for her 7-year-old, who typically wears her hair in braids or an Afro.
Principal of Auckland Grammar, Tim O’Connor, attributed the restrictive policies to the school’s high standards, but stopped short of addressing the rules on natural hairstyles.
“Any requests related to a young man’s religion or culture are addressed on a case by case basis,” he told Stuff.co.nz.
However, Nakhida argued it’s the school’s responsibility to create a policy that’s inclusive.
“It’s a matter of power for a principal to say ‘come and talk to me,’ ” she said. “Why should the student have to talk to you? The student should know inherently that this is a safe place … to wear my hair in an Afro or braids.”
Black parents across the U.S. have run into similar issues of their children being impacted by discriminatory school policies prohibiting natural hairstyles. Last month, a Texas mother stood up to school leaders after they sent a letter home requesting that she cut her son’s dreads before he returned to school after Christmas break.
“What I didn’t sign up for is RACISM,” Tiffany Brown tweeted. “I will not cut his hair. He doesn’t want it cut, so why should I cut it? How does his hair affect his ability to learn?”
The incident involving a Black high school wrestler who was forced to make a split-second decision to cut his dreads before a match also sparked intense scrutiny. The young athlete ended up winning the match in overtime but was visibly distraught by what had happened.
School grooming policies in New Zealand continue to be an issue for many. After some “reflection,” Westlake Boys’ High School principal David Ferguson, said the rules on Afros are outdated and would be scrapped, Stuff reported. Principals of Timaru Christian School and Auckland’s Rosmini College said they’re also reviewing their uniform policies.
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