Zulaikha Patel is my hero!
Zulaikha Patel is a 13 year old student in South Africa who chooses to wear her afro hair exactly as it was naturally intended to grow from her scalp. Zulaikha also chose to stand up to an institution that tells her she must put her naturally coily hair into a style that is “acceptable” and in line with the code of conduct of that institution.
Zulaikha’s protest against her school in Pretoria has been a recurring feature on my social media timelines, which I was obviously drawn to and eventually learned more about why this has gained so much attention.
Reports share that Zulaikha and students with hair just like or similar to her, have been told that their afro hair does not fit within their school’s dress code and has been labeled as unacceptable and “exotic”.
Now the term “exotic” led me to look up the definition, just so I was clear, because when I think of “exotic”, I’m thinking palm trees, white sandy beaches, and pineapples.
Well according to Merriam Webster, “exotic” makes no sense when referring to Zulaikah’s hair, especially when she lives in a country where the indigenous population, according to a 2011 census is 76.4% black. That is a hell of a lot of “exotic” hair. I would say that Zulaikah’s kind of hair can be categorised as “pop culture” if we really wanna label thangs!
Full Definition of exotic according to my girl Ms. Webster
Unfortunately, the opposition to afro hair is not contained within South Africa, as I have received such suggestions and heard similar comments about afro hair in general, on this side of the globe (Caribbean). What is even more unfortunate, is that ALL of those comments have come from individuals, whose NATURAL hair has the same or a similar “exotic” texture as mine!
As I said before Zulaikha is my hero and here’s why:
- She is a 13 year old pupil who has challenged archaic codes of conduct that does not embrace what is natural for her and many others.
- She is a 13 year old, who I am sure was trembling as she led the protest with fellow students and stood up to the Police (Yes that is right, the Police were called for teenaged girls, who were protesting to wear their hair in it’s natural state). Absurd right?!
- She is a 13 year old who has brought attention and refuses to conform to make others happy.
Now although I feel that Miss. Patel has dropped the mic on behalf of us “exotic” folk, I would like to end this post with one of my favourite quotes from Brother Malcolm to support exactly what Zulaikha is sadly still standing up for years later.
Well done Miss. Patel.
“Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? To such extent you bleach, to get like the white man. Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? No… Before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.” – Malcolm X