At the beginning of Black History Month, a group of Black girls at the School for Creative Studies in Durham, North Carolina wanted to wear “geles”, also known as head wraps, in order to celebrate their African heritage. How did the school administration respond to this celebration of Black culture? Negatively and without any consideration for what the head wraps could have meant for the young women.
Instead of celebrating this expression of Black history and culture, the school said that the students were violating the dress code. The women either had to remove their head wraps, fix their head wraps so that they showed their hair, or face suspension. However, the women and the community who stood in solidarity with them did not back down. Protestors of the policy held a demonstration wearing head wraps, and in addition to the protest, the hashtag #ItsBiggerThanaHeadWrap emerged.
Denying students the chance to represent their culture is a personal attack on their identity and expression. It is an attack that I’ve been familiar with since my childhood. I am half-Nigerian and half-Black, and while growing up, half my peers told me I wasn’t “African” enough to wear head wraps or embrace my African heritage. The other half of my peers told me I wasn’t “Black” enough to talk about racial issues in America. For a while I believed what others had to say about my culture and heritage because I was insecure in my identity. Who was I to tell them that I was “African” or “Black” enough when I didn’t even know who I was?
Over time, I realized that no one had the right to tell me about my heritage or my identity. The struggle that I faced while reconciling who I am is a struggle that I do not want other young Black students facing. So when I heard this story about a creative school, a place that is supposed to promote the identity and expression of students, I was filled with mixed feelings of both anger and sadness.
No one should feel that they have to fight for their heritage. Unfortunately because of the racism in our society, Black people have to fight for their representation every day.
This school basically told these young women that our culture isn’t worth celebrating and our heritage has to be fought against and threatened with suspension. This has to change.
Educational institutions need to recognize the importance of Black culture and realize that it is more than a head wrap–it is an expression and celebration of our identities and collective pride during a time when society is trying to force us to forget who we are.
PC: Jamaica Gilmer