Sociology Paper on South Africa School Racist Hair Policy

A story carried out by CNN on 1st September highlighted a story about protests carried out by a group of black girls from a Pretoria Girls High School protesting against racial injustices in their school. The protests soon spread to several other schools highlighting racial injustices as well. The girls started the demonstrations after being reprimanded by their teachers for their afro hair styles which according to their teachers were too exotic and not natural. Pretoria high was an all-white school during apartheid but started incorporating other ethnicities after independence. The article attributes the problem to the fact that prior to independence, the school was attended by white children only and most of the school policies and codes of conduct that were being used in that period are still being used even after independence and with the incorporation of children from other ethnicities in South Africa. According to the article, the protests began after a video surfaced online of thirteen year old Zulaikha Patel and her schoolmates in a standoff with security guards of the school who threatened to arrest them for protesting against what they termed as racial injustices from their teachers. According to the article, the problem was caused by teachers reprimanding the African students for wearing their hairstyles in a manner that was not in accordance to the policies of the school.

The theoretic perspective that best describes the article’s description of the problem is the Social constructionist perspective (Blumer, 1969). This is because it describes social problems as activities of groups making claims about grievances regarding putative conditions, an aspect that the article uses to explain the girls’ reasons for demonstrating. According to the social constructionist stage model, the claim makers go out of the system to critique official response as being misdirected or insufficient and then draw public attention to private matters. With this perspective, the article explains the girls’ move for the protests which was basically meant to draw public attention to their being unjustly reprimanded by their teachers because of being different. From the social constructionist perspective, when public attention is drawn to such conditions that are considered unjust, there is most likely going to be recognition by powerful actors or legitimate authority in order to have action taken towards addressing the problem. The article uses this perspective to explain the fact that the protests prompted a visit from the education minister in Gauteng province giving a directive that the school’s code of conduct be reviewed in a move towards calming the protests that were catching on in several other schools in different provinces.

However, the theoretical perspective that should be used to explain the problem best is the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective on social problems (Blumer, 1969). This is because the perspective focuses on the prevalence of certain behaviors, conditions, statuses or characteristics of people that are social strain-inducing. The perspective focuses on the societal perception and definition of a social condition rather than the objective makeup of the condition to determine whether the condition exists as a social problem. The other reason why the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective theory would be the best perspective in describing the problem is because the theory breaks down the process of problem identification into five stages which helps to clearly explain the problem. The stages comprise of emergence which is the stage where the a condition is identified and defined as a social problem, the legitimization which is the stage the problem is given attention by the press, schools, institutions or religious organizations, the mobilization of action stage which includes debates and blames, formulation of official plan of actions stage and final stage that is the implementation of action stage.




Blumer, H. (1969) Symbolic Interaction University of Chicago Press