At just 15, Ruby Williams found herself at the center of a legal battle. This later proved to be a turning point in how equality laws were enforced across the UK in relation to the texture of her hair.
A student at Arswick School in east London, Williams was sent home multiple times because of her natural afro. The school claimed that it violated its policy that “hair in his Afro style must be of appropriate size and length.”
After a three-year legal battle, her family’s case was upheld by the Equal Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Williams received an out-of-court settlement of £8,500 from the school, without the school taking any responsibility. bottom.
Her case is significant in that it prompted the release of new guidance by the UK’s Equality Watchdog. This should not stop students from wearing natural Afro-style hair at school.
Based on the EHRC’s observation that hair discrimination disproportionately affects people with afro or protective styles, the guidance also states that without the possibility of exceptions being made on racial grounds, certain It states that school uniform policies that ban hairstyles are likely to be illegal.
Ruby’s mother, Kate Williams, said the family felt gaslighted by the school during the legal battle, but felt supported by the EHRC regarding the validity of their case. We felt safe throughout [by the EHRC] “The fact that we were so resentful makes sense,” she said. I think there should be an organization like [EHRC] Being involved showed us that we weren’t irrational and gave us the confidence we needed. ”
Williams’ experience at an East London school is just one of many instances of hair discrimination occurring in schools, workplaces and other public spaces across the UK.
These experiences are well documented. According to a study commissioned by Dove, nearly half of black or mixed-race women with afro or textured hair experience discrimination based on race, and one in four of her black adults They are being sent home from work or being disciplined. natural hair.
There is also a lack of education about what hair discrimination is and how it manifests itself. Earlier this year, a survey by the World Afro Day campaign found that across the UK only 12% of teachers said they had received equality and diversity training, including a hair policy, making them aware that equality laws apply. Very few teachers were. their school’s hair policy.
The EHRC’s new guidance on hair discrimination in schools is a watershed moment as it provides much-needed clarity to a form of racism that is far more obscure and less explicit than other forms of discrimination.
Hair discrimination is a form of racial discrimination and is therefore protected by the Equality Act 2010. However, unlike race, religion, or sexual orientation, hair texture is not an expressly protected characteristic under the law that forms a form of discrimination based on hair texture. much more prevalent. This means that suspected cases of hair discrimination may be viewed as less binary and more difficult to prove than other forms.
The EHRC’s guidance lags far behind and is limited in that it only mentions hair discrimination in schools, despite reports of it occurring in workplaces and other public spaces. A survey conducted earlier this year by the Chartered Management Institute found that black workers sometimes believe their hairstyles have led to overlooked job opportunities.
But the guidance is nevertheless the first step to making sure equality laws are enforced regarding discrimination based on hair texture.
Kate Williams is happy it’s been made public in that it helps prevent many other kids with afro-textured hair from going through what her daughter went through. “I’m relieved. For me, I feel there is a legacy for her pain and for other kids who went through a similar experience to hers at school,” she says. I hope it doesn’t happen again to my children.”