Calls to ban hair discrimination on World Afro Day

  • Report by ITV News Producer Simi Jolaoso

Now in its third year, World Afro Day aims to celebrate afro hair and change negative attitudes towards it.

It's marked across the globe on September 15.

Despite the day being a celebration of afro hair, there are many in society who discriminate against it.

In recent years pupils have been suspended from school, told that their hair does not meet the institution's uniform policy, while others claim that they have had job offers withdrawn due to their natural hair.

World Afro Day is marked on September 15. Credit: ITV News

In 2017, Chikayzea Flanders was told by his secondary school that he had to cut off his dreadlocks.

The school later allowed him to keep his locks, after his mother, Tuesday Flanders, took the school to court, calling the demand an attack on her Rastafarian religion.

An online petition, calling for hair discrimination to be banned in the UK has more than 27,000 signatures.

"When I was at school, I was forced to take out my braids because a teacher didn’t like them," Zina Alfa, who started the petition, wrote online.

"Growing up, I soon learnt that black people have been refused jobs or give ultimatums in their jobs because their hair doesn’t make them look 'professional'."

Many people with natural hair have felt pressured to make it straight. Credit: AP

However, attitudes are changing and in July 2019, New York became the second state in the US to ban discrimination against natural hairstyles, including braids and twists, only weeks after California made the landmark move.

Now people with natural hair in the UK are calling for similar guidelines to prevent further cases of hair discrimination.

Lawyer Jon Heuvel said more awareness of natural hair is needed. Credit: ITV News

Lawyer Jon Heuvel, partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said hair is already covered by UK law, but better awareness needs to be created in workplaces and schools.

"In relation to women wearing high heels, there was a health aspect to it - it was not good for a women's posture," Mr Heuvel said.

"I think a similar argument can be made to natural hair, where they are being forced to apply products or treat their hair in a way in order to make it conform to what perhaps a Caucasian conventional norm would look like, because those sorts of treatments are damaging."

Anastasia Chikezie wants people to 'embrace' their natural hair. Credit: ITV News

Anastasia Chikezie, who started one of the very first salons catering exclusively to natural hair, says hairstyles such as braids and cornrows help protect natural afro hair.

"With afro hair, once you leave it out [not braided, etc], it's prone to damage.

"The kinks and curls makes it hard for the natural oil our scalp produces - called sebum - to travel down from the roots to the ends.

"So the ends become very dry.

"So we created these protective hairstyles to protect our hair."

Hairstyles have been created to help protect afro hair. Credit: ITV News

She says for many years people with natural hair have altered their hair to fit in but all that's changing.

"I think it's so important that we embrace our natural hair because this is who we are, this is our birthright.

"We need to learn to love ourselves, regardless of what everyone else thinks.

"We are so lucky, our hair is so versatile.

"So I think it's about time we learn to embrace our natural hair."

The kinks and curls in afro hair stops natural oils travelling to the ends of it. Credit: ITV News