Goals4Girls’s ‘My hair, my identity’ campaign is fighting against hair discrimination
When one of their 13-year-old participants was suspended from school for wearing her hair in a natural style, football development and mentoring programme Goals4Girls realised they had to do something about it.
All too often, Black people face discrimination and policing in schools and the workplace for wearing their hair in natural styles. Earlier this year, London student Ruby Williams was awarded an £8,500 settlement in compensation for being repeatedly sent home from school because of her Afro hair, while last year a North London school was forced to backtrack its decision to ban cornrows and knotted braids after receiving public backlash.
These problems are widespread and deeply-rooted. Goals4Girls report that seven out of ten of their participants have been discriminated against because of their hair, and three out of ten have been excluded. “We felt it imperative our young people understood and embraced their identities in a world where people of colour aren’t seen to ‘match’ traditional perceptions of beauty,” says Francesca Brown, founder and CEO of Goals4Girls.
To help them do this, Goals4Girls has launched a new campaign, ‘My hair, my identity.’ Over the course of the campaign, the Black-owned, female-led non-profit organisation will be giving a platform to their young participants, sharing their stories and celebrating their natural hair. They will also be releasing a video discussion centred around a group of young women of colour, and their hair journeys. “Providing young people with a platform to express themselves without judgement is vital if we are to help create the leaders of tomorrow,” says Brown.
“Knowing that there are people who want to hear their stories, and people who have also been discriminated against because of their hair, helps our girls to realise: ‘Wow, this is common and that isn’t okay.’ We need to speak about this and make people understand that there is a lot more underpinning this type of discrimination other than what your hair simply looks like.”
The campaign comes as part of a wider mentoring unit around identity that Goals4Girls have recently introduced. Brown says many of their girls – 82 per cent of whom identify as Black or Asian – were deeply affected by the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests and she felt it was important to use this period to listen, educate and care for them. “Goals4Girls is more than a football development programme,” she says.
“Our mentoring programme teaches our girls, some of whom are incredibly vulnerable young women, about the importance of forming positive relationships, looking after your physical and mental health, and above all else: accepting yourself for who you are, and for a lot of our girls, that revolves around their body image and their hair. There’s something powerful about knowing yourself, and loving yourself unashamedly.” As part of this mentoring mission, Goals4Girls are currently fundraising to expand their mentoring programme and continue their summer programme which includes units covering mental health, goal-setting, career development and identity. You can donate here.
Looking forward, Brown says that education is the key to making systemic change so that girls like Ruby and their Goals4Girls participants aren’t put in positions where they are punished for wearing their natural hair, an issue which goes so much deeper than just hair.
“By telling someone that their hair is ‘too big’ or ‘unprofessional’, you’re actually telling them that THEY aren’t accepted, THEY aren’t professional, THEY aren’t beautiful because they don’t conform to traditional perceptions of beauty,” she says. Uniform codes at school play a huge role in this. When you expect everyone to conform in a certain – Eurocentric – way, you are telling them they are simply not accepted for who they are.
The young Goals4Girls participant who was suspended from school got lucky. With the support of their Goals4Girls mentor she was not permanently excluded from school and was instead given a one week suspension. On her return she was slowly reintroduced to her studies via an ‘internal isolation’ policy: she had to sit in an internal exclusion room, in silence away from her peers. All because she was wearing her natural hair.
This needs to change and you can help by supporting organisations like Goals4Girls and signing petitions like Emma Dabiri’s petition to amend the 2010 UK Equality Act to include hair which you can sign here.