“I was fighting for every black child in this country.”
Those are the words of the very brave Zulaikha Patel, the 13-year-old South African girl with the natural hair of a goddess! Zulaikha is now a heroine for her country after she started a protest over a discriminatory hair policy at her school.
Zulaikha was repeatedly suspended for her hair by teachers at South Africa’s Pretoria Girls High School …something’s she’s actually had to deal with since primary school. As a result, Patel leads a protest for change in the school’s racially-biased hair policy. According to All Africa, she had to leave three schools because her hair challenged the system. Her sister said she was continually mocked, her hair described as “exotic” and looking like a “cabbage”. She would come home in tears. It is remarkable then that she didn’t look for ways to mend the “problem”.
The protest included an online petition for a policy change which gained thousands of signatures. Zulaikha and fellow schoolmates of Pretoria Girls’ High school became involved in a tense standoff with private security guards as they threatened the students with arrest. The protest, which sparked national attention, has garnered support from all over.
“The issue of my hair has been a thing that’s followed me my entire life, even in Primary I was told my hair is not natural, it’s exotic, my Afro was not wanted or anything like that and then the issue followed me to high school,“ Patel told CNN.
Pretoria Girls’ Code of Conduct does not specifically mention Afros, but it does lay out rules for general appearance, including prescribing that all styles “should be conservative, neat and in keeping with the school uniform.”
This little girl was put in an adult position to fight a system that forces her to conform to their standards. All she wants is the right to wear her natural hair. A 13-year-old, who should be focused on doing things 13-year-olds do, took weeks to study the school’s “code of conduct”, according to her sister. She also studied human rights, including rights for children, so she could be prepared to fight a system who uses their racist practices to limit this young, care-free black girl’s freedom to be herself.
This is a child who has to emotionally suffer from having to sacrifice her individuality for an education. I’ll dare ANYONE to disregard the blatant racism these students are dealing with.
She’s taking on a lot for someone her age, but guess what? She’s the epitome of a person with courage by standing up for what she believes in…human rights. A lot of us adults could learn from her.