The Afrikan child experience in the Australian education system

Soul Alphabet / Author: Linda Iriza

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A collection of interviews from our last Soul Alphabet Event

Soul Alphabet x Moji Oyemade collaboration

Reclaiming one’s Identity - At our last Soul Alphabet event Moji Oyemade and a few of her friends conducted a series of interviews where they asked people to share how their high school experience shaped them and if such experiences took anything away from their Afrikan identity.

Below are the findings from the collection of interviews:

Lack of belonging…

High school is a period of extreme changes as one’s identity is being formed by one’s environment, background, family, friends and much more. From the interview responses nearly everyone interviewed mentioned that they were the minority and felt a lack of belonging in their early high school years. It is important to note that being a minority carries a lot of weight - the weight of feeling alone, misunderstood, outcasted and more. Even though these feelings can also easily be associated to almost every high school student due to the different changes they are going through, however for Afrikan students in Australia the feelings were felt on a new extreme. As they didn’t just feel misunderstood because of their personality but they felt misunderstood because every other student viewed them as foreign subjects.

Interviewee: “you just have to learn how to adapt”

The lack of belonging and the feeling of being misunderstood eventually brings a person to a point of working on themselves. Many of the interviewees mentioned that their high school experience pushed them closer to finding who they are and taught them to hold pride in their differences and backgrounds. They learnt how to adapt by finding the strength of being true to themselves.

Additionally, When looking at the Australian education system it is important to look at the role programs like IEC (Intensive English Centres) play. For most immigrants and refugees who come from non-english speaking countries get enrolled into IEC programs which can be found in primary schools, high schools, Tafes and much more. Some of the interviewees spent the last months of primary school studying in Intensive English Centres (IEC). Such classes had the most multicultural groups of students and a lot of the students were Afrikans. These classes exposed students to different cultures, religions, languages and much more which crucial in the development of every child. For many students they felt a sense of belonging and understanding in IEC but this changed as they shifted into High Schools’ that were pre-dominantly white.

Hair is ALWAYS POLITICAL

It is a known fact that the black girl high school experience is different from that of a black boy high school experience. The experience of black girls is extremely affected by certain rules that school’s uphold. A lot of Australian private schools have strict rules concerning a student’s appearance from their socks to their hair. For example; Boys are only allowed certain haircuts, only certain hair colours are allowed but at some Private schools things go as far as having a ban on braids. While other Private schools that pretend to be more “understanding” allow braids but they make it a rule that the type of braids you start the semester with will be the same style you follow all year round.

Interviewee: We weren’t allowed to do our hair, even on our school diary it literally said “NO BRAIDS”…

Such rules play into the politics that braids are “untidy” and socially “unacceptable” and this goes on to support the narrative that black hair is problematic and that the more black hair is styled to look like white hair the more socially acceptable it is. This narrative has been played out for centuries and it is simply tiring. Braids are more than a “hairstyle”, Afrikans braid their hair so it can be protected and nurtured while it grows. Additionally, different braiding styles are suitable for different hair growth journeys. For example: if you have short hair it is recommended to get cornrows and when your hair becomes longer and stronger you can get long box braids.

Therefore, private schools that uphold rules that politicise black hair and deny black girls (who predominantly wear braids) from their right to groom their hair is disturbing. Secondly, schools that have the rule that force black girls to stick with only one type of braiding style also politicises black hair. Furthermore, not allowing other students to grow their hair into Afros is also discriminatory and dehumanising.

(a lack of) Self Expression

The education system in many countries is flowed as it has no room that allows or nurtures self expression of students. From the interviews a clear pattern was brought to light as many of the interviewees mentioned that they were praised for their sporting abilities but never for their creativity, and when it came to academic performance they were met with surprised faces as many doubted their abilities.

Interviewee: I was robbed of expressing myself… one time me and my boy…. we had a free dress day and me and him started dancing …. we were hyping everyone up …. the principal and everyone came down and shut it down even though we weren’t really doing anything wrong… it be like that sometimes…

In conclusion, from the interviews it was clear that everyone had hurdles in their high school expierence that pushed them to define their identity. On the other end, many also mentioned that the overall experience was positive when looking back it they made lasting friendships and were priviliged enough to have access to an education that was decent.

Now, What can Australian schools implement….

Education is not only important but the environment students learn in is also as important, which is why it is crucial for Australian schools to start implementing solutions to make sure every student is seen. So here’s a few solutions that could be implemented:

  1. Removing bans on braids: as mentioned before black hair needs to be braided, especially for natural hair. Braiding hair is culturally significant but it is also a grooming practise.

  2. Education: to implement programs that encourage students to express themselves from early on, for example: funding art programs, bringing in founders of community initiatives to ran workshops that leave students feeling empowered, more mentoring programs and for mentors to be diverse. For the system to include compulsory Indigenous history classes and implementing more global focused studies that discuss Afrikan history and much more.

  3. Anti-Bullying policies: for schools to continue having strong anti-bullying policies and be instrumental in ensuring that every student understands what bullying is. This can be done by schools dedicating a week to raising awareness on bullying and ensuring that students are involved in raising awareness by creating things like posters, conducting an assembly and more

  4. Celebrate differences: for schools to take Harmony week seriously by inviting different community leaders to showcase the different cultures that are found in the Australian society.

We would love to hear from you! You can share your high school experience with us by commenting on this article.

Linda Iriza1 Comment