Black hair discrimination prompts protest

Black Lives Matter Toronto is organizing a rally in response to a student who was told her Afro was unacceptable


Members of Toronto’s black community and allies will be rallying in front of the Toronto District School Board headquarters later today. A protest organized by Black Lives Matter Toronto is directed towards the lack of response from the TDSB over what many are calling a racially-charged incident at Amesbury Middle School, in the Lawrence and Keele area, last month.

In November, a 13-year-old student was disciplined by the school’s principal, Tracey Barnes, over her hair. The student’s aunt, Kaysie Quansah, described the incident in a Facebook post.

“Barnes told my niece that she needs to put her hair up, gave her a hair band/scrunchie/ponytail holder (whatever you’d like to call it) and repeatedly told her to do something about her hair. My niece challenged her and asked her why the students with ‘good hair’ aren’t being told to put their hair up, but eventually, because she is a child who doesn’t understand how fucking sick this work is, gave up and was reduced to tears in the office,” Quansah wrote. “My sister was then called and told that my niece’s hair was ‘too poofy,’ ‘unprofessional,’ that ‘no one would hire her with hair like that,’ and if ‘she were working in a store, no one would buy anything from her.’”

The student’s family reached out to Black Lives Matter for help and have yet to receive an apology from school authorities. The TDSB stated they were investigating the incident.

“The TDSB needs to take very seriously the affects of racism within education for these young children, and how that may affect their development later on and their later opportunities,” Sandy Hudson, the founder of Black Lives Matter’s Toronto chapter, says. “The TDSB and the school did not respond in a manner that provides dignity to this young girl. What does that mean to all the parents who have their children in school and what they can expect when their child experiences this kind of discrimination?”

Hudson, who is a graduate student in social justice education at the University of Toronto, has experienced discrimination in Toronto’s education system as a racialized person. She says that many of her peers have encountered instances where they don’t feel welcome at school because of their appearance.

“It’s a known fact within the black community that there is discrimination with respect to hair. There are people in our community who can tell you stories about being told their locs aren’t acceptable, braids aren’t acceptable or that they need to do something to make their Afros look more presentable,” Hudson says. “This is the way that our hair grows out of our head, and that is a symptom of anti-black racism, when people are saying we need to make ourselves look less naturally black in order to appear presentable or to be accepted in any type of space.”

The protest starts at 4:30 pm at 5050 Yonge Street. Hudson expects to see around 100 people, including local activists, hair dressers, artists and members of the student’s family.

Black Lives Matter Toronto will also use the opportunity to present a list of 12 demands to the TDSB. These include a public apology to the student and her family, the removal of Barnes as principal of Amesbury Middle School, the implementation of anti-racist training at all levels of the TDSB and the creation of a black students’ council.

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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