#FreeThePuff, Free the Mind
By Alicia Wallace
Feb 18, 2016 - 11:01:28 PM
Mothers are fighting for their daughters. They are intervening
and advocating for their daughters’ rights to exist as black people, unashamed
of roots, from historical to follicle.
Young women are holding fast to their
identities, rights, and truths as citizens, students, and members of the
African diaspora. They are unapologetic about the texture, length, height, and
natural state of their hair, even in the face of subjective policies and
discriminatory interpretations of them. #FreeThePuff is one of the fastest
movements to be built, spreading across the nation in a matter of hours, across
gender, generational, class, and religious lines, uniting black Bahamians who
recognize the power of natural hair and the threat to its existence that
necessitates this dialogue and this movement.
Many roll their eyes when we decry the slavery we continue to
suffer, failing to see through the mask of law, order, and the pursuit of success,
which leads to the perpetuation of respectability politics.
If you want to get a job,
you need to process and style your hair according to the standards set by the
British, followed long after the Independence we celebrate on Clifford Park,
year after year.
If you want your children
to have a chance at admission into schools and the first round of job
interviews, you need to give them Anglo names.
If you want to comfortably
sit at tables surrounded by your kin and associate with those in the upper
echelons of society, you need to learn to code switch. You need to use slang
and dialect with your own kind, and stick to Standard English, eschewing any
“Wulff Road English”, when in the presence of those to whose positions you
If you don’t want your
sons to be shot in the street, you need to tell them not to wear hoodies, keep
their hands out of their pockets, and put their hands in the air and say “Don’t
shoot” like a prayer to the god-with-a-gun standing before them and hope for
If you don’t want to be
killed in prison, you need to put out your cigarette when a police officer -
who has no authority to demand it - tells you to after pulling you over for, while
black, failing to use a signal when you quickly switched lanes to avoid a
collision with said officer.
Where will the line be drawn?
The statement released by the Ministry of Education, Science
& Technology claims it appreciates “the natural and cultural
heritage of The Bahamas” and the responsibility of “tolerance and
understanding”. The statement goes on to describe the natural state deemed
acceptable by the Ministry of Education, Science & Technology as “properly
groomed and neat”. This, clearly is open to interpretation, and therein lies
a part of the problem. This vague
statement leaves room for the administration of each school to enforce its own
rules, fueled by internalized prejudices and the systemic racism they continue
to suffer and perpetuate, failing to break the cycle.
Is chemically straightened hair properly groomed and neat when
on its fourth day of a well-gelled hairstyle? Is it properly groomed and neat,
when it’s worn in a bun with loose strands that doesn’t quite make the last
full loop hang loosely? Is hair properly groomed and neat when it is
irreparably damaged by the chemicals used to make it more acceptable for the
likes of those buying into Eurocentric beauty standards? Is natural hair
properly groomed and neat when it takes the form of dreadlocks? Is it properly
groomed and neat when worn in a band, combed and picked for even distribution
and length, extending upward and outward from the scalp? For hair to be
properly groomed and neat, does the texture and style have to be attractive to
school administrator with the authority to make the call?
If the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is content
to have its vague regulations interpreted at the discretion of school
administrators, it is not committed to the “natural and cultural heritage” of
The Bahamas as it stated, and puts our
in the line of fire. This is disappointing, degrading, and devastating, and its
statement serves no purpose.
Equally disappointing is the number of people who claim to be
pro-natural hair, but lament the fact that people are strongly supporting
Some of these people were the loudest voices, singing,
screeching, and yelling that they slay, not even two weeks ago. They liked baby
hair and afros, they went off, and they were prepared to get in formation, but
that may only be because it was behind a woman with long, fan-blown hair. Many
among us are prepared to sing the lyrics and bust the moves, but not ready to
get into social or political formation with a hashtag to support a group of
natural-haired young women with the gumption and, thankfully, the familial
support to fight for their rights to wear their natural hair and have access to
every opportunity they deserve including prefect nominations and a place on the
debate team. These people argue that other national issues deserve this level
of attention and action.
As we often remind our Prime Minister and Members of
Parliament, this is not a one-issue country. We cannot have a one-issue
country, and we certainly cannot and will not have a one-issue citizenry. We
can be frustrated by the self-denial the school in question is attempting to
thrust upon its black student body and the failure of the Government of the
Bahamas to honor the results of the referendum on gambling.
There are several factors that determine how we respond to
issues including personal experiences, emotional triggers, ease of action,
media access, and perceived end result. None of them are up for debate, nor do
they preclude any individual actor or group of actors from taking action. Many
social media users have posted that gender equality is more important than the
issue at hand, but the latter is getting more attention. Interestingly, many of
those people did not attend protests, rallies, or volunteer trainings, donate
money, or take any substantial action as the ill-fated five-times-delayed
gender equality referendum approached.
The idea that this issue - of young women being told that their
hair is unprofessional and asked to alter it to receive an education - is not
important, or not as important as some other issue is dangerous.
Sense of self
is important. Self-esteem is important. Self-respect is important. If we don’t
have these things, we are not able to recognize and rebuke discrimination when
it is enacted against us. If we don’t have these things, we are liable to
discriminate against others in the same ways we have been discriminated against
which, let us not forget, is how this conversation started.
If we lose our identity,
what is left to fight for?
Gender equality is important. Transparency and accountability
in government are important. NHI is an issue of national importance.
Unemployment is an issue of national importance. Who is prepared to say that
any of these is more important than anti-racist movements? Who is prepared to
say that the way we see, think about, and treat ourselves and those who look
like us is not reflected in every other issue that vexes us? Who is prepared to
say that racism, colorism, sexism, and classism do not rear their ugly heads
every time we make judgments about murder victims, use The Bible to support the
subjugation of women, refuse to patronize black-owned businesses in favor of a
different name or status, make unnecessary beyond-our-means purchases, threaten
our children with public school if their grades or behavior don’t improve,
ridicule the women who feed their families thigh snacks and Blue Mystics, speak
to strangers in uniform better than we speak to our own family, comment on the
contestants in Miss Bahamas, view a job application, critique news
anchors, and comment on little girls’
long, pretty hair and beautiful complexion?
These are personal issues. These are political issues. These
are social issues. These are all our issues, as Bahamian people, as Caribbean
people, as formerly colonized people, as black people, as the descendants of
slaves, and as people who continue to suffer the effects of slavery and
colonization every day of our lives.
Will we not resist? Will we not continue
to fight for our freedom? Gone are the shackles from our feet, but will we
speak? Will we try to prevent others from speaking? Will we pick up where the
master left off, attempting to exercise control over others as it has been
exercised over us? When will it end?
There will always be a cause more worthy, an issue more
relevant, to those outside of the venn diagram of people who are directly
affected and people who care enough to support them. That is okay.
If an issue speaks to you, speak to it. If you have it in you
to do something about an issue, do it. You will not identify with every issue
or every movement built in response. That is okay. It is
not okay to tear it down, minimize it, or ridicule the people who
support and help to carry it. If you see a hole, fill it. We do not need more
people to tell us we’re not doing the right thing because it is not important
to them. We need people to do the work. Be guided by your needs, your beliefs,
and your desires. Create something. Encourage someone. Be the change you want
to see, and stay out of the way of people working on the things you think are
too small, too personal, too irrelevant.
This is your call to action. Do something. Support a movement
you believe in. Make a donation to a non-profit organization doing work you
think is important. Get a group of friends together to work on project related
to a common interest. Mentor a young person. Talk to your neighbors about
community issues. Use social media to share your points of view, call others to
action, and make real change. Pointing fingers, complaining, and ridiculing
people doing real work isn’t helping. Do something that will. Don’t just sing
the song. Get in formation.
I got an Afro pick in my
Wallace is a Bahamian writer, blogger, and social and political commentator. She
holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary's University,
Halifax, NS. She is a women's rights activist, passionate about public
education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls.
Alicia is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas- part of a global movement to end street harassment - and Co-founder of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She serves
as the Youth Ambassador for The Bahamas to End Sexual Violence, and is one of 60 recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015. Alicia lives in Nassau, Bahamas. Connect with her on Facebook.
© Copyright 2016 by thebahamasweekly.com -