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Barbadian High School Bans Twist-Outs, Sparks Backlash

Avatar • Jan 15, 2015

In what some people are calling a holdover from colonialism, a prestigious 282-year-old Barbadian high school, Harrison College, has banned twistouts. The school’s principal, Juanita Wade, says she opposes the style because it isn’t neat. The decision has sparked national debate in Barbados and other Carribean islands.

The controversy was sparked after Elva Mary Tudor posted a picture of her daughters, both Harrison College students, to her Facebook account along with the following caption;

My daughter’s hair style was considered too flamboyant and unsettling for school. At assembly yesterday the students were told twist outs are not appropriate for school.

She will be 18 in a couple weeks and over the last two years she has been quietly developing her sense of style of which I am quite proud. She has leaned to a natural look.

She has been subject of negative comments about her hair and has stood her ground. I understand clearly that school must have rules and they must be followed. But I find the negativity towards natural hair sad and backward. We seem to dislike the look of tightly coiled strong hair.”

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The Facebook post quickly went viral with more than 900 likes and 240 shares.

A group of Harrison College alumni penned an open letter to Principal Wade which received 500 signatures in support. In the letter they criticized the school for “the message being sent to young women of African heritage”;

We speak often of modernized curricula at the secondary level, and the need to pay attention not just to academic/technical areas of study, but to the sense of identity that young people develop as students. Part of this identity is of course the history of their country and region, and their place in this history. Not just in the Caribbean but wherever young, Black women live, we are told that our hair is somehow inadequate: it is ‘hard’ or ‘knotty’. It is not straight ‘enough’, although enough for whom or what one cannot be sure. And where we are kindly allowed to wear our hair naturally as it grows from our heads, there are caveats: as long as it is pulled back or braided tight or otherwise tamed. Now let us concede the expectation of a tidy appearance to accompany a school uniform. But there is nothing inherently untidy about a twist-out style. In fact, it helps keep strands of hair in place, where otherwise they may have blown about. It is no different from a simple afro, unless this too is considered too distracting for school. Among our primary concerns is the message being sent to young women of African heritage in this country that their natural selves are of necessity untidy, unsuitable or otherwise inadequate.…

The argument that “students can do whatever they like once they enter the real world, but this is school” also misunderstands the role of formal education and the process of young people’s development. School is the real world. Young people are understanding themselves and their environment, and while becoming who they will be, they also are. They are real, valid human beings with thoughts and ideas to express. 

On the other hand, some Barbadians are sympathetic to Principale Wade. Barbadian social commentator Corey Sandiford painted her as a victim in a radical natural hair crusade. Ironically, in his defense of Principal Wade and Harrison College, he pointed to the school’s colonial roots as justification for its ban on natural styles;

As *I* understand it — since *I* like most people commenting on the incident was not in the school hall at the time it occurred -

the principal:

- Identified SEVERAL student practices (including hairstyles) that were not suitable, according to school rules

- Did not identify any specific students as being culpable for their hairstyles

- Actually highlighted the controversial twist-out style for its beauty, but simply said THAT particular style isn’t considered suitable for school.

- At no time used the words “flamboyant” or “unsettling” to describe the style with reference to the school.

Tell me: What exactly is the problem here ? Are we actually going to behave as though stringent rules are new in our schools ? Or, as though any of our “older secondary schools” have ever remotely presented themselves as being here to promote your afrocentric values in the first place ? Maybe the syllabus has changed since I left Harrison College but while I was there I sure as hell never learned about African history, or anything intrinsically African for that matter.

Harrison College is part of a whole education system that is, itself, a mirror image of the school system that existed in Britain — when Barbados was still a colony. 

Some Barbadian radio shows have even encouraged listeners to call in and affirm that natural hair styles are unkempt and unsuitable for educational and professional settings.

As someone raised in the Caribbean, this story feels very familiar and very disappointing. Whether we live in the United States, the Caribbean or Africa, we face a similar post-colonial struggle towards natural hair acceptance. (The poem Colonial Girls School by Jamaican poet and novelist Olive Senior gives a poignant summary of how colonial education affects the female, Afro-Caribbean sense of self.) A few short decades ago, the belief that natural hair was ugly and unkempt was widespread and unchallenged. The post-colonial ‘natural hair movement’ is fairly new and we still have a long way to go.

The reality is that the way afro-textured hair behaves is fundamentally different than other textures. It’s not unkempt, it’s DIFFERENT. Too many young girls with tight coils think there is something wrong with them because their hair doesn’t lay straight, or down, or in a defined pattern, or because it isn’t always perfectly symmetrical. And they are receiving messages from society affirming and encouraging those insecurities. When will the message change? When will we come to terms with what our hair is, and stop shaming ourselves and others for how it naturally exists?

Ladies, what are your thoughts on all of this?

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Ajah
Ajah
5 years ago

Awww that’s just sad. I hope that anybody who gives money to that school pulls their money out. I can understand if like bugs and such was in it and it smelled bad, but it doesn’t. If you can’t where you’re hair natural in a country that is predominately black people then where can you?

Mandy
Mandy
5 years ago
Reply to  Ajah

Nobody will pull funding… These are accepted norms, it is just that the students rebelled.

ReallyNow
ReallyNow
5 years ago
Reply to  Ajah

Schools in Barbados dont work like schools in the US. They government run not privately funded.

caribbean girl
caribbean girl
5 years ago

In my coutry at some schools we were not allowed to wear extension and afro hairstyles unless there’s an activity at school or when there are just a few more days of school.(and the school I went to that is still the rule) So to me the principal saying to tame her hair is not a big deal. I’ve been natural all my life and myself and school mates who kept our natural hair always had it tamed. It was less distracting and looked better in my opinion. And that didnt make use hate our hair. Half our teachers were… Read more »

Rose
Rose
5 years ago
Reply to  caribbean girl

I think you have to consider what it means to have “tamed” hair. Especially for people who wear afros, this affects women quite a bit. Women are expected to grow their hair long, but anyone with an afro knows that in order to really braid an afro it must be long. What about people with short afro hair? What if my hair is braided one day and it shrinks to a mini afro? Why are white students allowed to wear their hair down?

Mandy
Mandy
5 years ago
Reply to  caribbean girl

Carribbean girl, what Island are you from? I am from Trinidad and we do not have this problem. My family is originally from Barbados though. We can wear cane rows, twists, locs etc. as long as they are neat. Besides these rules discriminate against Afro textured hair. Straight hair is not subjected to these restrictions. I have heard that locs In Barbados are worn in school under a scarf (that’s crazy if it’s true!)

Anna
Anna
5 years ago
Reply to  Mandy

I am Barbadian and it depends on the school. Some schools force all students with locs to wear a tam (the crotchet hat) to cover their locs in colors that complement the school’s uniform or some instances only black is allowed . When it comes to treatment depending on the sex of the student some schools allow the girls to wear them freely while the boys usually must cover theirs regardless.

JenniD
JenniD
5 years ago
Reply to  caribbean girl

If you weren’t allowed to wear your hair out what were some of these tame and acceptable styles you speak of? Also listen to your language as you say tame as though our hair is some beast that needs to be calmed down and made domestic. I think this is no big deal to you because you have bought into that way of thinking. Not being able to wear your hair out is STRANGE. Nothing about that girls hair in the picture above looks wild and distracting. Man I thought we had it bad here in the U.S but this… Read more »

Tolu
Tolu
5 years ago
Reply to  JenniD

Cornrows, threading, and didi (i dont know what its called in english) were the allowed forms. And they were countless styles you could do with these forms. More protective for the hair even. Oversensitivity is what it is.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  Tolu

So you are telling us white girls at your school had to do cornrows, threading. and didi to look tame and acceptable. If they can wear their hair out and black people can’t racially discriminatory is what it is.

Dee
Dee
5 years ago

I am rather disgusted with this rule. What is so bad about the hair that we were born it.

That school’s principal need to come to the US and learn about White supremacy.

maralondon
maralondon
5 years ago
Reply to  Dee

Don’t need to go to the US to learn about White Supremacy. The legacy of slavery still lives on in the Caribbean.

Chevanne
5 years ago
Reply to  maralondon

True. Sometimes even moreso.

maralondon
maralondon
5 years ago
Reply to  Chevanne

Yep your not wrong there.

abbiethrills
abbiethrills
5 years ago
Reply to  maralondon

People will deny it up and down too.

Dee
Dee
5 years ago
Reply to  maralondon

I am American. Even though American schools are known to be terrible with teaching about Black History, I was taught about our history from my parents who were teenagers during the Civil Right’s Movement. In any of the Caribbean countries, did people protest or boycott when it comes to injustices towards those of African descent?

You can’t expect schools to teach you every single thing about life.

Guest
Guest
5 years ago

Bajan

Nichole Alicia Haynes
Nichole Alicia Haynes
5 years ago

I’m from the Caribbean, Guyana to be specific while I attended secondary school I too was faced with a similar situation. I would occasionally wear my hair out. My dorm mistress (I attended a boarding school) told me I wasn’t allowed to wear my hair out and that it was against the school rules, yet girls with more straighter hair were allowed to do so. One instance I was barred from leaving the dormitory until I “fixed” my hair

rayne
rayne
5 years ago

I don’t see this ‘rule’ as anything new. I am also from the Caribbean and where I am from it is not accepted for children to wear their hair loose whether type 1,2,3 or 4 hair. It is just not accepted. Loose hair is seen as a big woman hair style or for a ‘special’ occasion. The reality is that schools and other uniformed institutions have rules. I don’t see how saying that a twist out should not be worn to school equals negativity towards “afro textured” hair. Is a twist out the only style that her hair can be… Read more »

abbiethrills
abbiethrills
5 years ago
Reply to  rayne

Even though I was really little…when I lived in Jamaica, I specifically remember girls with straight hair being allowed to wear their hair out, while those of us with afro-textured hair weren’t allowed to do the same.

AdinaKay
AdinaKay
5 years ago

I grew up in Trinidad and went to an all girls’ school. And the general rule at my high school was if you had afro textured hair that was of a significant length, it needed to be pulled back into a bun. Not because it was unkempt, but because big afros could actually block other children from seeing the blackboard. Lol. It was a silly rule, but it made sense. Girls who wore twist outs as short as the girl in the picture were never penalized for it. The fact that the reason cited for banning it was because it didn’t… Read more »

kia
kia
5 years ago

All this anti blackness. I can’t deal chile

Tems
Tems
5 years ago

Just to bring another perspective to the table… I’m not sure how it is in the Caribbean, but in Africa (well, Nigeria to be exact since thats where i’m from) people are very conservative when it comes to many things — hair included. And in places like school and Church your hair has to be neat at all times. Little girls (relaxed or natural) have to have their hair in braids at all times. In some Churches they actually prefer that you have your hair covered. People get offended if your hair is hanging down your back (i.e. weave, locs) or… Read more »

OXxo
OXxo
5 years ago
Reply to  Tems

Since little girls in Nigeria also have short shaved heads known as a twa then it must be just what you have seen.

BajeTrini
BajeTrini
5 years ago

The fact is rules are set to combat distraction. I also was natural my entire school life, still am natural and following the school rules for hair was never a problem. I never felt negatively towards my hair and never will. The fact of the matter is that every single style that becomes popular in society children want to bring it to school hence why restrictions have to be made. Once braids (extensions) could have been worn to school but children abused that privilege by adding colours and wearing elaborate hairstyles hence causing a rule to be implemented. Same goes… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  BajeTrini

Any rule she sees fit??! I don’t know the laws there but in US a public school principal cannot implement any rule they see fit. Actually principals don’t make rules for dress codes. School boards do and in many places board members are elected officials who answer to the people. Their meetings are public and people can voice their opinions before a vote is taken. It’s called democracy. My thing about rules even ones I don’t like is that they should be applied fairly to everyone. If I can’t wear my hair out then no one should. Also I’ve never… Read more »

BajeTrini
BajeTrini
5 years ago
Reply to  Cosita

I see no reason why there is any argument over natural hair. It is highly promoted in Bim. I just think that you should go to school, follow the rules and get your education. There are vacation periods and weekends for you to wear your hair as you like. That’s what I did when I was in school so I don’t see why there is a big fuss. This is the Caribbean and you are in the US so our cultures and standards are different. Hence the opinions will vary about the situation. Things will slowly change to be on par… Read more »

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  BajeTrini

The fuss is about the equal treatment under the law. why not make everyone including white kids follow same rules? A supervisor told me and another black coworker with new makeup policy we were not to wear lipgloss and told an Asian not to wear eyeliner a certain way. We thought it was for everyone until we saw white women were doing it and they told us they were never told not to. I guess big lips and slanted eyes are too “distracting” so I wear gloss and my friend her eyeliner now all the damn time. There is more… Read more »

abbiethrills
abbiethrills
5 years ago
Reply to  BajeTrini

I’m from the Caribbean as well…and there are plenty of “rules” that were dictated by white Europeans that are unfortunately still in place. Many of these “rules” were meant to strip of us our roots and instill self-hatred in people of Afro-descent. It was part of how we were colonised. Just because it’s “the rules” doesn’t mean it’s right.

stace
stace
5 years ago

Well my natural hair grows looking like a twist-out without me twisting or braiding it. So is that band too? When they start saying that it is unacceptable for anyone including those with wavy, loosely curled, or straight hair to wear their hair “out” and naturally un-styled then maybe we can say okay. However, separate and unequal requirements will not be tolerated.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  stace

I feel the same way. I only starting twisting my hair as it got longer to prevent tangles but I don’t HAVE to twist my hair for it to look like that. . My hair is tightly curly coily. When it was short it looked like the girl in the pic who is sitting when all I did was wash, detangle, and rub some moisturizer in it. No manipulation. The school didn’t ban wearing your hair out. They banned twistouts. So how are the millions of blacks who have this exact same hair texture WITHOUT twisting supposed to feel when… Read more »

Cygnet
Cygnet
5 years ago

Regarding the remarks by Corey Sandiford as they are represented in this article, and as I understand them based on what I read here: 1. Last I checked, Great Britain had freed all her colonies. Is Barbados still a British colony? Does Barbados set hairstyle rules for all her schools, or are the schools allowed to do it? Because I do not read anywhere in this article that the rule Principal Wade is enforcing was set by England, nor even by Barbados. In fact, the very first thing the article says is that the school made this rule. And, unless I… Read more »

maralondon
maralondon
5 years ago
Reply to  Cygnet

Britain may have so called ‘freed’ former Colonies but before doing this they made sure that their legacies were embedded into the minds of the people they left high and dry.

ReallyNow
ReallyNow
5 years ago

People should get the facts before picking a side! Students at that school been wearing natural hair for years and the mother of the self same girl say she going back to school with a afro instead of the twistout so it cant b she natural hair that was the problem.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  ReallyNow

I saw on FB where one of the mothers said her daughter was told by two teachers to get a relaxer. Let a teacher tell my child to get a relaxer and somebody better be getting fired. And she said a teacher asked the girl’sr classmates to weigh in on whether her hair was appropriate to embarrass her. Regardless of how I feel about about natural hair that kind of conduct by adults is appaulling. She said her daughter is not going back. Not sure why this article acts like these girls are sisters. There are two families.

T. Thomas
T. Thomas
5 years ago

I’m a Caribbean American but I’ve only gone to school in America. When I made my transition back to wearing my hair natural, I received the most backlash from other Caribbean people. This is going to be a hard fight but it’s worth fighting. If you think African American people have issues with their hair texture acceptance, you have no idea what Caribbean people go through! In the minds of many Caribbean people, there is only one acceptable standard of beauty and it isn’t kink. I pray this case can become a catalyst for change…

Nali
Nali
5 years ago
Reply to  T. Thomas

Im sorry to hear, Im Caribbean-American myself, Bajan decent as well, and Ive lived most of my life in Barbados and I have never gotten any backlash from my family or friends. My bajan father is my hair crush. I guess it really depends on the person(s)

Toni
Toni
5 years ago

What natural hairstyles are neat enough to be acceptable? Besides buns, I mean.

Yvette
Yvette
5 years ago

I’m from Africa, Zimbabwe to be specific. In high school, no one, relaxed or natural was allowed to wear hair out unless if it was long enough to be put in a bun (or if there was a dance, but hair had to be protective styled after). Otherwise, everyone was encouraged to protective style using cornrows or African threading. Only seniors could get their hair done in extensions (only box braids or twists). The rules where there to ensure none of us lost focus on why we were really in school (to get a quality education) by trying to one… Read more »

Veronica
Veronica
5 years ago

Those girls are absolutely beautiful BTW! I can see both sides of the argument. On one side you have an EXTREMELY traditional school trying to uphold its long establish prestige and heritage. How can one even expect this school to change it’s policies? I’m sure natural hair has been around this school for quite some time so I’m not sure if the comments were an outright attack on the natural hair movement at the school OR one particular style. It is not uncommon for schools, businesses, and institutions to ban styles. It is part of the culture in which the… Read more »

JenniD
JenniD
5 years ago

You know upon reading this article again and reading the comments I have come to the conclusion that this is a cultural thing.Most Americans will give uniformity and suppressed self expression a BIG thumbs down, but those who have grown up with being a major part of their lives will just shrug their shoulders. Thanks to the internet many black women the world over are looking at this natural hair movement and begin to style their hair the way they see these MOSTLY American women doing. This is garnering some some crazy looks and backlash because culturally that is not… Read more »

Lisa Reid Collins
Lisa Reid Collins
5 years ago

Being of Barbadian decent.…I understand where this is coming from. That being said, this school should not be focusing on students’ “hair”. Education should be their top priority!

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

I like their hair. Looks great to me. I wear twistouts and I think I think of it more as my hair than calling it a “hair style.” Basically I wash and detangle my hair. The twisting is just to keep my hair from tangling as it dries. Honestly my hair looks the same as a wash and go only not as shrunken. I live in US. I was never told in school, church, job whether my hair was chemically treated or not I couldn’t wear my hair out or it had to be braided or covered or bunned. Just… Read more »

Mercedes Moss
5 years ago

I am a black woman with black hair, which I wear in locks. I am thankful and happy that God created me black. I wore natural unprocessed hair until I was 21. Thanks to relaxers, I suffered from breakage and hair loss which the best treatments could not correct. Now my hair is long, healthy and strong. I am creative and in connection with my Creator. It is a pity that Harrison College has joined what I consider to be the ranks of the uneducated and biased. This is a discrimination of the rights of a human being to express… Read more »

Mercedes Moss
5 years ago

I looked at the teenager’s hair and it is tidy and well groomed. In fact, she is well groomed down to her well groomed eyebrows. When will this discrimination stop? Jesus had black hair…https://pppministries.wordpress.com/?s=black+hair

BelleNaturelleParis
5 years ago

Ahhhhh sisters I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. We are at war! First of all the teacher is out of order and off code for upholding such supremacist ideology as it pertains to the child’s hair. As long as the child’s hair is clean I don’t see what the problem is. In the US a situation like this wouldn’t fly, because Blacks would scream discrimination and have an attorney and Al Sharpton at the school the next day. Obviously in the Caribbean things work differently. I admire the mother for spreading the word about her child’s experience… Read more »

Paula
Paula
5 years ago

Funny you should mention Al Sharpton, have you seen his hair (natural) recently?

Emeley Beaupierre
Emeley Beaupierre
5 years ago

Twist outs are very neat and classical. They promote pride in who you are. I see nothing wrong with twists outs. I prefer to see ladies with twist outs any day rather than in extensions or straight. Straightening of the hair is like saying I do not love you I am I want to be someone else.

lol
lol
5 years ago

It’s a sad day when the hair that naturally grows out of a person’s head is deemed unacceptable.

deandra
deandra
5 years ago

i live in jamaica this in not new.. i think its completely unfair because girls with relaxed hair are allowed to wear their hair out with just a headband while if girl with natural hair wears twist-out or puff they are sent to the bathroom to “fix” their hair or the teacher takes it upon herself to fix it which usually results in unattractive chunky plates .

Alice Ebony Angel Kent
Alice Ebony Angel Kent
5 years ago

I feel that when black people are not accepting of our hair because it is not straight, I think that it is self hatred of their race. I think that if God gave it to us, be proud of what you have. We are a unique race of people, with so many different looks. There is no other race of people that can have so many different looks, with their hair and I love my natural hair and I love seeing my people wear their natural hair and be proud of it.

Tracienatural
Tracienatural
5 years ago

This is a very, very touchy topic. Well, as another Caribbean-American, I’d like to give my two cents. In my opinion, many of the African-American women who are commenting on this forum may not be aware of the legacy and traditions of the British West Indies, since you would have to live it to fully understand. Many of the British mores were incorporated into the predominantly black Caribbean cultures, so it may not be as easy for British Caribbean people to dissect which portions of their culture were forceably imposed versus which portions were voluntarily adopted. Thus, British Caribbean people… Read more »

Lakitha Goss
Lakitha Goss
5 years ago
Reply to  Tracienatural

Many of us African Americans have Carribean roots. Especially many of us who are Southern descendants. Many of those slave ships came tobthe U.S.via the Carribean. I have Carribean roots.

Q.O.C
Q.O.C
5 years ago

I believe it’s ridiculous that people see this rule as “not a big deal”. No one ever tells white girls that they can’t wear their natural hair texture out, but if a black girl wants to wear her natural hair texture out, it isn’t “tamed”. Our hair is different, it doesn’t lay down straight once you wash it. Why must our hair be considered “unkempt” because it doesn’t grow out of our head straight? Answer me that. It’s called self-hate, and euro-centric beauty standards. One more thing, white people are never called euro-centric for wearing their hair how they want,… Read more »

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