Today Alexandra Burke spoke out about her experiences of racism when she entered the X-Factor competition a few years ago, she was told she had to have a straight weave and not wear her hair natural to appeal to the wider white audience. The comments in the mainstream media about Alexandra speaking out are indeed painful to read. Most white people on those platforms are accusing her of lying to seek relevance. “Here we go again, jumping on the bandwagon of playing the race card”, most comments were reading. Misha B was also accused of playing the race-card when she recently opened up about her experiences of racism on the talent show.
Well since Black people are now supposedly suddenly on the bandwagon of playing the “race-card” in terms of speaking about the experiences black girls and women face in the UK, especially the talented black women, let me also play my own race-card about an incident which happened a few months ago, regarding my talented 3 year old daughter’s natural hair at an all white ballet school.
I have a daughter, Charo she is very dark-skinned and beautiful. When she was 1, still in her nappies, one day she watched a little girl doing ballet on You Tube, I was the one actually practising, but Charo was taken by the music and dance, and started to dance like the little girl. Every day she would ask me to put the video and would show me her moves. So I bought her a tutu and dancing shoes. She would wear it every day and dance. She was too young to be enrolled in a ballet dance school, so her Dad would teach her to dance at home. Her passion and determination at such a young age moved us. Most of the times parents force their children to live their dreams, but for Charo she knew exactly what she wanted to do even when she was still in her nappies. She wants to be a ballet dancer.
On her 3rd birthday I bought her a tutu dress and ballet shoes, this time I got her black shoes to blend with her complexion. She was so excited that she was now old enough to go to ballet school. It was a magical journey for her, a dream come true.
She is/was the only black child at the ballet school. When she first joined, they all kept going on about how sweet and adorable Charo is. Even as she walked in the street with her ballet costume on, people would literally stop and gush, as if they wanted to eat her.
One would think that because they find her so sweet and adorable, her experiences at a ballet school would be sweet and adorable too. But no, her being a black girl got in the way of how sweet and adorable she was.
Not long after Charo had joined the school, we were written a letter which stated that Charo was at risk of being excluded from the school unless she complied to the rules. We were simply told “Ballet was about discipline, and every child should look the same, if we did not tie our daughter’s hair in a silky”neat” bun, she had to leave the class or we had to find another alternative dance for her which didn’t require such intense discipline.”
The letter was so offensive to us because our 3-year-old Charo is a black girl with kinky hair. The texture and length of her hair make it impossible to tie it in one “neat bun”. The reason why her hair is like that is because she is black.
Kinky hair, especially that of a little child, requires plaiting to maintain it. I do keep her hair in different elaborate styles, which brings out the beauty of her hair. Afro hair can be styled neat, very neat, but the neatness is not that of a “bun”. My daughter’s hair is always neatly styled any way, she always went to her ballet lessons with “neat” hair. But for them, because it was not tied in one neat silky bun, she can’t be enrolled in the school because she didn’t look like the other white girls.
And besides, the whole idea of tying the hair for ballet dancing is so the hair does not distract the dancer. That is the principle behind the ballet “neat” bun. This will be essential obviously if you are white, because your hair is long and it flows so it is a distraction. Afro hair does not flow, so it obviously doesn’t have to be tied, especially if its of short length, like Charo’s.
We were so disheartened by the letter so much we could not bring ourselves to respond to it. Well there was a blessing in disguise at the timing of the letter, it was at the same time the UK went into lockdown due to the COVID plague, so Charo couldn’t go back to the ballet school anyway.
What’s heartbreaking is that every week Charo asks me, “Mummy, am I going to ballet?” She loves it so much there is nothing she thinks of more. I keep telling her that once the plague is over, she will go back to ballet school.
But she doesn’t know that the rules of the ballet school will not allow her to go back because her hair is an afro and cannot be tied up in a “neat” bun.
And I am not the one to sit down with people and try to negotiate with them on how to treat me or my children better. That model of doing things has never worked in my book, in fact it makes things worse.
We always pray and fast for white people to love us and treat us better, we have been praying for 400 years. When the praying doesn’t work we send advocates to speak to them on our behalf, yet advocates like Nelson Mandela or even Martin Luther King jr could not solve the problem. When Martin Luther King jr doesn’t work, we start protests and join in movements like Black Lives Matter. This last option prompts very dangerous reactions from opponents, especially if they are in a bigger position of power over you.
For my husband and I, going back to the ballet school and asking politely or demanding with protests for equality for Charo is not only dangerous for our little girl, but it will end her dream of becoming a ballet dancer. For Charo, she just wants to learn to dance, and my husband and I owe it to her to give her that opportunity to learn how to dance in a safe environment where her colour and hair is not a barrier.
If we go to the ballet school and point out that their actions are very demeaning, racist and prejudice towards our black daughter, the chances are she will actually be treated worse, even though they may “change” their protocol and say, ok fine, a black girl doesn’t have to tie her kinky hair into one neat bun. On the outside, we may feel like we have achieved something, but little Charo will pay for it one way or another.
Also being charming or beautiful or talented such as Charo is never going to be spare her any racism or prejudice.
In my life experiences of dealing with hate at such a high level, not just hate, but hate by a powerful mob, I learnt that one should never ask for love or engage in treatment negotiations with someone who has power over you. The response will be that which we see when black British women like Alexandra Burke speaks out, they are mocked and belittled even further, though the system may change a few things here and there, the hearts of those people can never be changed.
The Genesis Of The Revelation By
Mary-Tamar was Jean Gasho