“Asking me to change my hair is like asking me to erase my blackness.”
Resounding words from Zulaikha Patel who in 2016 at age 13 was thrust into the spotlight for her bravery, daring to challenge and call out outdated racially inspired hair policies – enforced white beauty standards at Pretoria Girls High in 2016. Her defiant and unintimidated stance, daring to stand up to her white headmaster went viral on social media, even landing her a mural by a well-known New York City street artist as well as being the face of the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh
That singular act ushered in a new wave of change, including launching an investigation into school hair policies as well as sparking similar protests around the country.
Although the South African school’s code of conduct didn’t outrightly forbid natural hair, it does states hairstyles needed to be “conservative, neat, and in keeping with the school uniform”. The said policy also indirectly encouraged Black students to chemically straighten their hair.
Pretoria High School for Girls, one of the country’s elite schools previously only took white pupils, until the end of apartheid in 1994.
Zulaikha, now 18, has firmly established herself as a change agent on a mission, fighting for Gender Equality, She is ambassador for the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute that advocates for community development & the advancement of women. The activist was also a TEDx Speaker at the TEDx AFRICAN LEADERSHIP UNIVERSITY event in Rwanda.
Taking away black hair is robbing individuals of their self esteem, self worth and uniqueness and in efforts towards encouraging young black kids to be proud of their natural mane, this year 2021, Zulaikha Patelis released her debut book, a children’s book named My Coily Crowny Hair. The book’s foreword is written by South African and Coming 2 America actress Nomzamo Mbatha.
The book, she says, was inspired by her own experience of having to fight for her identity and expression at her alma mater, Pretoria Girls High: “I wanted to ensure that no other Black child that comes after me should ever experience this severe form of intimidation.”
In December 2016, Zulaikha was included in the BBC’s 100 Women, recognising the world’s leading female voices and trailblazers.