“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (NIV)

Ethics is the “sister discipline” for Theology. That is important for us to remember when there is a religious or even theological “push-back” to statements against discrimination. There are those who would have us believe that Christianity in particular, and religion more broadly, should play no role in social justice. However, mishpat, which is the word for justice that’s in the Bible over 400 times, is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. Therefore, we cannot attenuate the assumptions that those who suffer disproportionately are beyond the concerns of the Church – particularly when it comes to dealing with race. Perhaps this assertion is one of the structural approaches which supports misogynoir.

In Proverbs, the notion that there are those who cannot speak for themselves but their concerns should not be overlooked or ignored. Instead, we are to speak up “for the rights of all who are destitute” and to “judge fairly” the rights of those who are poor and in need.

Impoverishment and need are evaluated by much more than economics and food access though these two concerns are certainly of primary concern. But when the impoverishment one experiences is that they are poor, or have less access to social power, because of their gender, their race/ethnicity or other mitigating factors, it is something which is worthy of note.

Please see the story, below, regarding the misogynoir or “hatred of Black women” exhibited in hair discrimination. How can we become a voice for justice-making so that one’s very hair is not seen as “disruptive”? Why is the presence and being of the Black woman seen as an ontological threat to educational systems, for example? What steps might we take to remedy these assumptions?

California recently passed The Crown Act (https://www.thecrownact.com/ ).

Please read the article below, by Ayokunle Oluwalana, and let us know your thoughts.

Parents of girl sent home from school for her Afro say schools need to stop punishing Black kids for their hair

Ayokunle Oluwalana – Nov 1, 2022 2:59 PM

Parents of girl sent home from school for her Afro say schools need to stop punishing Black kids for their hair (msn.com)

Parents of a girl who was sent home repeatedly for her Afro hair said hair discrimination is unfairly targeting Black children. Kate and Lenny Williams have first-hand experience with hair discrimination as it affected their daughter Ruby when she was 14.

Ruby, attended school in Hackney and for many years there were no issues between the school and herself. In year 10, back in 2016, she started getting sent home due to her hair. She was told by teachers that her hair was ‘obstructing’ the view of others and was distracting.

Instead of being able to prepare for her GCSEs, every time she would walk into school with her hair out she was worried she would get sent home. She was sent home for breaching the school’s uniform policy which stated ‘Afro style hair must be of reasonable size and length’, something Kate said made no sense – and has since been backed up by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

On Thursday, October 27, the EHRC published guidance stating: “Pupils should not be stopped from wearing their hair in natural Afro styles at school. Uniform and appearance policies that ban certain hairstyles, without the possibility for exceptions to be made on racial grounds, are likely to be unlawful.”

Kate, 46, a teacher herself, told MyLondon: “The stress this situation brought for us as a family was horrible. They were policing my child in this way but they didn’t actually care enough about how she was as a person. We were at home experimenting with different ways of doing her hair in order to keep them happy then eventually said enough is enough.

“Afro hair takes a lot of upkeep and her hair would be hard to contain as it was bouncy as a way to describe it and Ruby wanted the hair to look a certain way. One teacher suggested I cut my tights and Ruby should wear them on her head. This is a mixed-race girl, born and raised in Hackney, being asked to go to school with tights on her head. How do you think that would impact her? There was just a lack of care for Ruby’s well-being. They were focused on this uniform policy and Ruby didn’t fit into it and instead of rethinking the policy, they tried to rethink Ruby.”

With Kate being White and her partner Black, she admitted that she was ‘ignorant’ to discrimination like this and she never prepared Ruby for the experience. She said: “As an adult in Hackney, it feels like a safe bubble. So many different families and people have been here for generations.”

She added: “I hadn’t prepared her for something like this and I supposed I felt guilty that she was naïve about what could happen. As a White parent, I had never heard of hair discrimination until it happened to my daughter. As parents, we knew we’d have to prepare them about racism at some point but we didn’t think we’d need to prepare them to experience it in school”

Lenny added: “It was horrendous what Ruby went through. You send your child to school for an education, not to be policed about her hair. When she came home the first time from being sent back, we thought it was a joke. After the second and third times, the headteacher was telling her she isn’t following the policy. What is reasonable height and length? It makes no sense.

“The school was adamant they did nothing wrong and my daughter had to do her GCSEs while going through this. She had teachers watching her while she was doing her exams to see how her hair was. This should never have happened to her at all in the first place and if we toed the line and agreed with the school, how would my daughter have felt knowing her natural self isn’t acceptable?”

In 2018, the EHRC funded Ruby’s legal case against The Urswick School. They settled with Ruby out of court and she was awarded £8,500. Kate and Lenny hope that what Ruby went through can help many other children and change these policies.

Kate said: “What Ruby went through has had a long-lasting impact on her emotionally but she has still somehow got to university and is thriving. Her life is still on track. However, you see these stories about these school policies and when it comes to boys, it can actually switch them off from education altogether.

“Ruby knew she wasn’t the problem and the issue was with the school. Sadly, not all children know that and instead get defeated and go off track. They’re the kids I’m worried about who will suffer the most. I would undo everything that happened to Ruby, the hurt that she feels but I have the belief she’s going to be alright but not all kids are.

“Children are being told off for their biology, for being how who they are. It’s a comfort to know that her bravery has been able to open up this conversation about hair discrimination. and the EHRC issuing this guidance hopefully means children won’t suffer anymore.”

Ruby, who is now 20, has been able to involve herself fully and was even president of the African-Caribbean society at Manchester University. Ruby told Radio 1 Newsbeat in 2020: “I felt like any time I would walk into the school with my hair out, all eyes were on me. I’m definitely proud of my hair. I’m proud of the progress that it’s made and the journey that I’ve been on.

Kate added: “When she first shared her story, she had grown women messaging her saying because of you, I’m going to wear my hair out and that they were inspired. I think why she shared her story was to stop it happening to new children but it also helped people talk about what had already happened to them.”

MyLondon reached out to The Urswick School for comment.

Are you having issues with a school in London? Email ayokunle.oluwalana@reachplc.com.

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