#BlackHairProblems

As other posts on this blog have discussed time and again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with. So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

by Channon Oyeniran

afro2#BlackHairProblems – It’s a humorous hashtag on Twitter, but one of the big “problems” with black hair isn’t funny at all. The number of articles, news clips and stories I’ve seen and heard recently concerning black girls’ and women’s natural hair is both surprising and ridiculous. Are we really making such a big issue out of a person’s hair as to ask them to change it or “get it done” or suggest that they are breaking the school dress code…in 2017?! Seriously?! I must admit, the controversy surrounding this topic is puzzling to me in the sense that something so trivial as a person’s hair – the black person’s hair –  is creating such a stir.

Black women can do almost anything with our hair because it is so versatile. We can make it straight, curly, wavy, we can braid it, twist it, put it in a ponytail, cut it and style and so much more! We can also do all of this with our natural hair or with aides such as extensions, weaves, hot combs, curling irons, etc. Desktop6-008Many are now taking issue with black women choosing to wear their hair in its natural state, a trend that is growing in popularity, rather than trying to make it into some idealized view of beauty that the media and white majority have portrayed. For so long black women were told that our hair must be long, straight and flowing for us to be considered beautiful. Whether a woman chooses to go natural or not is not the issue. It is up to each individual and what she wants. The real problem is the pressure put on so many black women, from their workplaces, schools, and society, to “fit in” and conform to mainstream society.

This uproar is not a new phenomenon. Twisted views on beauty have been forced upon black women since they were taken from their homes in Africa more than 400 years ago. womenslaveThe black woman then had the western view beauty thrust upon her, internalized and then carried out among black communities. Black women who were lighter in complexion or of mixed race and had features that resembled white women were seen as “better,” and thus treated differently, than black women whose darker complexion and features were viewed “inferior.” This treatment extended to these women’s hair; in the eyes of the slave traders and owners, having long, straight, flowing hair was beautiful while having curly, short and wool-like hair was considered masculine, and unattractive. From the days of slavery, black people have had their value determined by their appearance and its proximity to whiteness. The more “white” you appeared, the more valuable you were.  This has led to an enduring pressure to conform to the styles, mannerisms and culture of the white majority.

As a black woman who has worn my hair proudly in its natural state for many years (e.g. no relaxers, weaves, or extensions in my hair) and for the past two and half years worn what are called “sisterlocks” in my hair (a trademarked locking technique where the hair is parted in a precise grid, utilizing a special tool that places the hair in a locking pattern: see photo), I have taken pride in being able to just wear my hair as it is and not fill the pockets business owners, many of whom are not black, who profit very well from black people coming into their stores and spending hundreds of dollars at a time on hair care products, weaves, extensions, etc. I, too, like many other black women used to relax, aka “straighten”, my hair so that it was bone straight like white women’s hair or add weave to my hair so that I would have the hair length like a white woman. Desktop6-001But after much money spent, and educating myself more on my history, who I am, where my ancestors came from, I came to the realization that my hair is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide or to change. My hair is beautiful, naturally curly…characteristics that many women wish they had. I also decided to not care what the media portrays to be beautiful or acceptable. The media doesn’t determine who I am or if I am beautiful or not (which I am!). Although this issue doesn’t only affect women, I will focus on three stories, from three different countries, that highlight the discrimination black women, in particular, have faced for wearing traditionally black hairstyles.

USA:

“Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook are being punished by Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Boston….[…] because of their hair.”

-Kayla Greaves (HuffPost Canada)

Just this past week, the story broke that fifteen-year-old twins from Boston, Deanna and Mya, have had to serve multiple suspensions since April, could potentially be suspended again for wearing box braids and were banned from school activities. According to Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s administration, the girls’ box braids violate the school’s dress code because the code prohibits extensions, and says hair cannot be “more than 2 inches in thickness or height.” deanna-mya-cook(This rule would insinuate a black student wearing their hair in an afro style would be in violation of the dress code.) Both girls are intelligent and active in school, so what’s the problem? Well, according to another parent whose daughter also wore the box braid style and was suspended, white children at the school have “coloured hair and you are not supposed to colour your hair, and they walk around like it’s nothing.” Many feel, and I agree, that these facts point to discrimination against black students who cannot simply wear their hair in a style that represents their culture, heritage and identity.

Thankfully, I came across a follow-up article to this story, which reports that the state attorney general sent a letter demanding that the school “[…] immediately stop punishing black and biracial students for wearing hairstyles the school said violate its dress code.” These are rules that the attorney general thinks are both discriminatory and unfairly enforced amongst students at the school. It’s a happy ending to this particular story as the Cook twins are again allowed to participate in their extra-curricular activities, as well as maintain their hairstyles, which represent who they are. However, these stories, which are all too common, continue to occur around the world.

Canada

“Cree Ballah models the hairstyle she was wearing the day she says two managers at the Zara store she works at tried to change her hair in full view of other employees.”

                                                                          -Philip Lee-Shanok (CBC News; Toronto)

Desktop6-002.jpgIn March 2016, in Scarborough, just outside of Toronto, Zara store employee, Cree Ballah, went into work with box braids and was asked by her manager to first take her braids out of the ponytail they were in and then along with another manager tried to fix her hair to fit the so called “professional look” that Zara was trying to maintain. Not only was this experience unprofessional and discriminatory, it was also humiliating for Cree as her managers tried to fix her hair in front of the store in a busy mall and in front of her co-workers. When this happened, Cree said she would likely quit her job as well as file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This is yet another common example of discrimination against black women and their hair. (See this story from BBC News, ‘Wear a weave at work – your afro hair is unprofessional’.)

South Africa

“High-School Girls in South Africa Are Protesting for the Right to Wear Their Natural Hair”

-Claire Landsbaum (The Cut; NY magazine)

29-pretoria-girls-high-school-protests.w710.h473On August 29th, 2016, students at Pretoria Girls High School in South Africa, protested against the school’s hair policy that many students and parents deemed to be racist. The policy indicates that natural hair is “messy” and suspends students for wearing their hair natural. In response to the school’s policy, a petition with close to 18,000 signatures was signed along with the protest by the students and support pouring in for them via social media. The students even had the support of Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who tweeted, “Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity.” The protest, petition and support appeared to work as the high school suspended the rules about the hair policies a few days after the protest. Another triumph, but a bittersweet one, as these situations expose the deep rooted racism against people of colour across the world.

Why the Double Standard?

Justine-Skye-purple-natural-hair-vs-Katy-Perry-purple-hair.jpgIn another article, written by Elle on Black Girl with Long Hair, the author does a comparison of the inconsistency between black and white women who colour their hair and how it is seen by the general public. It is seen as “hood and ghetto” when black women colour their hair and “creative and cute” when white women do it. This issue, along with black women’s natural hair, goes deeper than just the issue of hair. As other posts on this blog have discussed time and time and time and time again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with.

So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

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More stories of the “problems” with natural hair:

Positive and uplifting stories:

And a few more great posts on the subject…

 

UPDATED RESOURCES (These are stories, articles, etc. added after publishing.)

Black Panther, black women, and the politics of black hair – Al-Jazeera

When Black Hair Violates the Dress Code – NPR

Black History Month 2017: Reflections

As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

by Channon Oyeniran

“My ultimate dream is that these things — women’s history, black history — are so included in the core curriculum narrative that we no longer need a separate time to celebrate it.” – Denée Benton 

1Slider_blackhistorymonth_2017I know, I know, Black History Month 2017 (BHM as it will be referred to for the remainder of this post) is over…so why is Channon talking about it again?! Well, I just wanted to do a brief recap and take the time out to reflect, think and discuss how BHM 2017 went! For me, BHM 2017 was awesome, one of the best yet! It started off with the Ontario Black History Society’s Annual Kickoff Brunch on January 29th, which is an annual brunch that kicks off BHM in Ontario with performances, awards, a keynote speaker and entertainment. This annual event is significant because it not only kicks off BHM, from an organization that was instrumental in getting BHM celebrated in the city of Toronto, but it’s also a time when black Canadians can come together to acknowledge our history and achievements from those doing great things in the city of Toronto. On February 8th, Historica Canada, celebrated Black Canadian Trailblazers, an evening of storytelling where notable black Canadians in various fields such as media, academia, social justice told their personal stories and those who inspired them. You can see more about that event here and here.

Desktop5Later in the month, I presented at the Burlington Public Library about the different groups of black people that migrated to Canada and at David Bouchard Public School in Oshawa, Ontario where I spoke about pre-European contact and pre-colonial Africa, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the black presence in Canada. I also attended Afroglobal Television’s Black History Month reception. Afroglobal showcases the best of Africa and its Diaspora through programming that positively and more accurately impact and reflect the experiences and dreams of people of African heritage around the world. Towards the end of the month, I hosted my 2nd annual “Looking Back into the Future” Black History Month Conference. I also had the privilege of watching the brilliantly made and narrated James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. This documentary is so accurately on point about the black experience in America that it’s like James Baldwin is living in 2017 with us! I also attended the Mayor of Toronto’s Black History Month reception that unveiled artifacts from one of the first black churches in Toronto from the 1800s. I also went to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, with 165 students to learn more about BHM in Canada and meet the Honourable Jean Augustine (below in photo), the first black woman elected to Parliament in Canada and who got the motion passed for BHM to be celebrated in Canada in 1995. Such an honour! Whew, that is a lot and there were so many more events, receptions, concerts, etc. to go to in my community and in the city of Toronto that commemorated BHM!! It was a great month of learning, knowledge sharing, commemoration, education, fun and fellowship and was way too short! 

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Although BHM is only officially recognized in four provinces across Canada (this year marking the first year that the province of Alberta is celebrating it), BHM 2017 in these four provinces, as well as the rest of the country, was a busy one, with many different celebrations happening in different towns and cities! From book launches, to festivals, to films, to pop-up shops, to panel discussions, to conferences, to photo, art and information exhibits, workshops669450, plays, seminars, brunches, lunches and dinners, BHM 2017 was jam packed across Canada! It was so exciting to hear about, read and see how many different activities there were to do in my local community and in the city of Toronto. It made it very difficult to decide what to participate in, as the disadvantage of having BHM in February is that, as we all know, it’s the shortest month of the year. However, on the positive side, it is so refreshing to know that there are so many different activities planned for BHM. There is never a lack of things to do during this month.

Reflections:

“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance;  it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” – Marty Meehan

20170228_115821As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

Again, although some people question why a whole month is dedicated to Black history, it is my sincere hope that people will take the time to really learn what BHM is all about, to learn something new and to recognize its importance. It is also with great anticipation that I hope black history will be known as simply just history – a history that includes people that helped shape the world as we know it now.

“That the history of black people is really a part of Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian society are part of the contributions we should have made as Canadians in Canadian society. I think that in every aspect of Canadian life you can find someone of African descent, of Caribbean descent, of black… participating and therefore it is essential that, that be recognized by the society.” – Honourable Jean Augustine

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For more information on BHM, what it is and why it still matters, check out these posts from myself and Michelle here and here.

Note from Michelle: One of the coolest things that happened this year was the Black Futures Month project from Huffington Post. Various issues concerning black lives were highlighted, as well as the community leaders working towards a better future.  


 

For more information…

 

Making Multiculturalism Work

“There are practical reasons for keeping the doors open…The economic benefits are also self-evident, especially if full citizenship is the agreed goal. […] Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity.” – Charles Foran

 

by Channon Oyeniran

In the post I wrote in November titled “Multiculturalism: A Primer,” I talked about what multiculturalism is, its benefits, and briefly discussed which countries adopted the concept of multiculturalism (Australia, Canada and the UK). Multiculturalism is defined as: “the peaceful coexistence of a culturally diverse or multiethnic populations in a country.” In a time when immigration and migration is ever increasing, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at why multiculturalism works in the Canadian city of Toronto and most other Canadian cities. I recently read an article by Charles Foran titled, “The Canada experiment:  is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country?,” which you can find in its entirety here. It stated that as 2017 began, “…Canada may be the last immigrant nation left standing. Our government believes in the value of immigration, as does the majority of the population.”

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Why is that? Why have multiculturalism and stable immigration policies worked for Canada? I think it’s important to look at this because this world is constantly changing, revolving and growing, and people are regularly moving and changing their locations (voluntarily or involuntarily) and where they choose to call home. I want to look at why this concept of multiculturalism works in Canada and hopefully show the benefits that can come along with it if other countries adopt it and work towards its main purpose.

Multiculturalism in Canada187345019_thinkstock_can-flags-multicultural-72dpi

A definition of multiculturalism in Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy specifically states that the “value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.” Multiculturalism is a concept, introduced as policy in 1971, by then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau (father of current prime minister Justin Trudeau). This formalized policy states that it will “protect and promote diversity, recognize the rights of Aboriginal peoples, and support the use of Canada’s two official languages.” The policies and an act surrounding multiculturalism in Canada have allowed people from all over the world to come and live in Canada, bringing with them their various cultures and traditions.

Multiculturalism has offered Canada the opportunity to be more diverse in every aspect of its society, whether it’s bringing new skills to a job, new ideas and thoughts to a classroom, or new food to a neighbourhood. Multiculturalism in Canada continues to bring together talented people who bring their innovative and interesting ideas and skills the country, thus allowing it to thrive! Also, because there are so many different people from other countries who have made Canada home, there is no single identity that Canada claims, as stated by current Prime Minister Trudeau. He said that,  “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” Foran’s article states that, “The greater Toronto area is now the most diverse city on the planet, with half its residents born outside the country.” So with half of the people from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), born outside of Canada, there is no defining identity like some other nations that pride themselves on being French or British or American, for example.

Why does multiculturalism work in Canada?

canadian-flag-mosaic-by-tim-van-horn-2010Multiculturalism in Canada works for a variety of reasons, one of which being the stable immigration policies that have helped to shape the very fabric of our nation. Canada has been a well-accepted destination historically for immigration since the early twentieth century. Authors Stephen Castles and Mark Miller in their book, The Age of Migration -International Population Movements in the Modern World, say that: “Canada remains one of the few countries in the world with an active and expansive permanent immigration policy, which aims to admit the equivalent of 1 per cent of its total population of about 30 million each year.” Therefore since a steady and increase wave of immigration started in Canada after World War II, people from around the world, from all different backgrounds have settled in Canada and have called it home.

Benefits of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism works in Canada because it’s preserved in our laws and the very fabric that makes up this nation. Here is why multiculturalism is a good thing and benefits multiculturalism-2012.pnga country who adopts it: Not only does multiculturalism allow different cultures to experience one another’s native foods, music, clothing, stories, but it allows people to be exposed and learn from different cultures, thus broadening the minds of the citizens who live in multicultural societies. Foran’s article also adds that, “There are practical reasons for keeping the doors open…The economic benefits are also self-evident, especially if full citizenship is the agreed goal.[…] Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity.”

How YOU can get involved…

Keep reading, because this is the important bit!! Whether or not you live in a country that fully practices or accepts multiculturalism, there are ways for you to embrace multiculturalism in your own life. 

The trouble arises when we are not spreading love or understanding for people in our own neighborhoods who are different from us. They might be of different backgrounds, identities or faiths. Practicing love and understanding should be a norm for everyone. The dream to travel and see the world starts in our own towns.

Becoming culturally competent, diverse and inclusive involves knowledge, attitudes, and skills that may seem overwhelming for any individual or agency to achieve. It is important to remain aware that cultural groups are not homogeneous in beliefs and practices

  1. Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures.
  2. Invite a family or people in the neighborhood from another culture or religion to share a meal with you and exchange views on life.
  3. Rent a movie or read a book from another country or religion than your own.
  4. Invite people from a different culture to share your customs.
  5. Read about the great thinkers of other cultures than yours (e.g. Confucius, Socrates, Avicenna, Ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Ganesh, Rumi).
  6. Go next week-end to visit a place of worship different than yours and participate in the celebration.
  7. Play the “stereotypes game.” Stick a post-it on your forehead with the name of a country. Ask people to tell you stereotypes associated with people from that country. You win if you find out where you are from. 
  8. Learn about traditional celebrations from other cultures; learn more about Hanukkah or Ramadan or about amazing celebrations of New Year’s Eve in Spain or Qingming festival in China.
  9. Spread your own culture around the world through our Facebook page and learn about other cultures.
  10. Explore music of a different culture.

People want to learn, and when they come together to share the experience of knowledge, social divisions often dissolve. When spaces are programmed to celebrate diverse cultures and histories, there is an even greater impact. The power of learning and exploring should not be underemphasized.

Multicultural education is more than celebrating Cinco de Mayo with tacos and piñatas or reading the latest biography of Martin Luther King Jr. It is an educational movement built on basic American values such as freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality.


For more information…

Human Trafficking in Ontario

 

by Channon Oyeniran

Hello friends! As we draw nearer to Christmas and the new year, I just wanted to do a quick summary of an article I read the other day in The Globe and Mail. It was titled, “Police find 16 human-trafficking victims in cross-Canada investigation,” and it talks about human trafficking in Canada (Ontario specifically), a country where many people think modern slavery and human trafficking doesn’t happen. This article shows that in fact human trafficking does exist and is a big business here in Canada.

rcmp-logo1In the article, Tavia Grant discusses a cross-Canada human trafficking investigation in which police rescued 16 victims from human trafficking situations. Police also charged 32 people with 78 offenses relating to trafficking in persons and child luring. This human trafficking bust was the fifth time that Canadian police, under the name “Operation Northern Spotlight,” organized an investigation that sought to help vulnerable people in human trafficking and more specifically, the sex trade.

This article gives a lot of informative stats concerning human trafficking in Canada and the province of Ontario as well. One stat that stuck out to me was that the province of Ontario has approximately 65% of the human trafficking cases reported to police in the Canada. That’s more than half of the cases reported amongst 10 provinces and 3 territories! That tells me that Ontario has a lot of work to do concerning fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Another aspect that the article discusses is that over the next four years, the province of Ontario will be investing $72 million dollars in a new anti-trafficking strategy. This proves to be significant because Ontario is only the 3rd province in Canada to create a plan to fight trafficking.human-trafficking-in-ontario_5541983806fee_w1500

Another thing that this short but informative article does is provide the readers with a definition of human trafficking and some signs to look out for to spot someone who may be a victim of  trafficking. This article also touches on the age range of these victims – the youngest being 13 –  and that majority of them are female. The mention of how lucrative this trafficking business is for perpetrators who exploit more than one girl is also noted in the article. Not only does it give current and up-to-date information about the business of human trafficking, it also provides some solutions on what the city of Toronto, the province Ontario and Canada are doing to fight and hopefully end human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Similar stories/articles:

Below, are some links to similar articles on this topic:

Methods used to help fight human trafficking in Ontario:

There are various methods used in the fight to stop human trafficking. Different organizations such as Free Them and Covenant House in Toronto are fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Some methods used to help fight human trafficking that these organizations and others use and that are also mentioned in the article are:

  • Education for hotel staff in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba provided by the police
  • Raising awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery 
  • $72 million invested by the Ontario government for an anti-trafficking initiative. (The money will be used to bolster support for culturally appropriate services for indigenous survivors of trafficking, create a provincial anti-trafficking coordination centre and lastly, create a specialized prosecution team for human-trafficking crimes.)

Ways to get involved: