Learn Why Hair Matters While Learning How To Speak English Ep 376

A photograph of an African man with dreadlocks glancing away, learning why hair is important while we learn how to speak English.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 2497 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 13 min

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Learning How To Speak English As We Talk About Hair

When thinking about a topic for a new English lesson I often listen to what my friends are talking about or maybe my children and sometimes I seek our ideas from the current UK news? It’s important to me I find something contemporary, something that native English speakers are talking about today, using everyday English. Because the best content for a new English language learner to learn how to speak English fluently, is to listen to and use English that’s being spoken right now my millions of British people.

It’s one of my pet complaints when I listen to other peoples English teaching material. The content may well be excellent, it might be a valuable lesson, but the producer of the work uses artificial English to build the lesson around.

Choosing to create a bland, fake conversation or maybe pull English vocabulary from a textbook that might be 20-30 years old. I mean, even using books that are 2-3 years old means you're going to be hearing an English language that’s just not used these days.

If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.
⭐ Hillary Clinton

When you listen to an Adept English lesson, you get to listen to native English speakers, speaking about topics which are right up to date. While you listen, you train your brain to comprehend and store critical English vocabulary ready for automatic recall and fluent English speaking.

Most Unusual Words:

Fulham (A town in London)

Most common 3 word phrases:

In The UK4
I Think That4
Of Hair Racism3
To Think About3
My Son’S School3

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Learn Why Hair Matters While Learning How To Speak English

Hi and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. We are here to help you with your English language learning. And I was working this week on our course, The Adept English Most Common 500 Words. This really is a good course, especially if you find our podcasts quite high level, if the podcasts are difficult for you to understand.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

This course gives you practice with the 500 most common words in English, through listening of course. Doing this course makes sure that you have a really strong base in English. So learn how to speak English well with practice at the most common five hundred words. Once you know these words, learning how to speak English is so much easier. And if you want to know how to learn English speaking at home, then this course is the answer.

Black Lives Matter and Racism

Black Lives Matter has been a massive movement this year and something which has hopefully brought more awareness of ongoing police brutality, and racism. It’s something that we all need to fight against. ‘Racism’, R-A-C-I-S-M in English means that you hold beliefs, you act on beliefs or assumptions about someone of another race. And usually the feel is that they are inferior to you, ‘less than’ in some way.

That’s racism. Racism can be extreme, ‘in your face’ as we might say in English, or it can be subtle. Sometimes you have to think about it to realise it’s there, especially if you’re one of the majority, who of course in the UK are white people. Subtle, S-U-B-T-L-E means an effect that’s hard to describe or analyse, but it’s there nonetheless. And if it affects you, you see it immediately and feel it too.

History of Racism

I think that in the UK, the type of racism which is open and blatant is much less common than it was. ‘Blatant’, B-L-A-T-A-N-T means very obvious, not hidden at all. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I think there was much more of a problem. And much of it came from ignorance, lack of education, possibly fear and a general lack of awareness and self-awareness. And importantly, it came also from a lack of empathy.

‘Empathy’, E-M-P-A-T-H-Y is when you have a sense of what someone else feels. So a lack of empathy means that you treat people as though they are ‘an object’, a thing. You ‘objectify’ people. And I think this used to happen a lot in the 1970s and 1980s, around people whose appearance was different because of their race.

The world was less global than it is now – but it doesn’t excuse it, of course. And there are still racists in Britain today. But those people are fortunately very much in the minority. ‘Very much in the minority’ means they’re a tiny percentage of people. I would say nowadays on the whole, Britain is a country that mostly tries hard not to be racist, but which sometimes still gets it wrong.

We’re 40 years on from the bad times I’m talking about and nowadays most people hate racism - it horrifies them. Most people would hate to be thought of as racist, would be horrified in fact, to be thought of like that. But sometimes people, especially those in the majority, don’t necessary realise when they’re being racist, because they haven’t had to think about it.

Certain things have never been an issue for them. We use terms like ‘white privilege’ to describe this. Something of course, I need to be aware of, as a white person. But as I say, if you’re the one on the receiving end of racism, you see it immediately, you know it straight away.


Different types of Racism

The derogatory, out-and-out, racism happens much less nowadays. But of course, events like the murder of George Floyd remind us powerfully, it does still happen, with the worst possible outcome. I think that now more often what we face though, is racism as a more subtle, pervasive thing.

So it’s time to fight subtle racism too. We hear the term ‘institutionalised racism’ talked about. The word ‘institution’ means an organisation, or a system, say like the school system, or a government system. So when we talk about ‘institutionalised racism’, we’re meaning that racist beliefs, however subtle are ‘embedded’. They’re part of the way an institution behaves.

Have you heard of ‘hair racism’?

One example of this, which I’ve noticed is hair racism. Yes, that’s hair, H-A-I-R as in the stuff that grows on your head. So ‘hair racism’. I noticed an example of this in British schools, and in the secondary school where I’ve sent all three of my children.

My son is there currently. It’s a strict school – that means it’s got lots of rules and it applies them too. And I like that because I think that teenagers need rules so that they can develop self-discipline. And self-discipline is important. It’s the ability to make yourself do things because you should, even if you don’t want to do them. You don’t get far without self-discipline! So I think rules are important in schools.

School rules and hair

And the rules at my son’s school are really strict on the uniform – fair enough. The ‘uniform’ U-N-I-F-O-R-M – that means the special clothes that you wear for school. Pretty much every school in the UK has a uniform. It’s a ‘leveller’ – whether you’re rich or poor, you dress the same, which is good. But the school’s guidelines on students’ appearance extend to their hair.

So quite rightly, I believe, there’s a ban on children having coloured hair, shaved hair, or having hair like a punk from the 1980s. Crazy, spiky hair styles, in green or blue, hair standing on end – none of that is allowed.

Fair enough, I think. All that can be done in Sixth Form perhaps, if you’re taken with the desire to have that kind of hair. I suppose it’s a lesson in conforming, but it also makes everyone equal – in a good way.

This is what uniform does – it takes inequalities out of the picture – or so we thought. But until relatively recently, what my son’s school rules also said is that certain hairstyles were not allowed, hairstyles which in fact could be termed ‘black hairstyles’. So the school rules used to say that ‘corn rows’ were not allowed. ‘Cornrows’, C-O-R-N-R-O-W-S – which are also called ‘cane rows’. And this is where the hair is plaited so that it’s in lines on the head. It may also hang down in little plaits.


A portrait photograph of a black woman with cornrow hair.

©️ Adept English 2020

This is of course a traditional way to style the hair in many cultures, especially in parts of Africa. And the style of cornrows may signify different things about a person, depending on where they’re from. There’s even evidence of cornrows being a way to style hair as far back as 3000BC. So cornrows been around for a long time and there’s tradition to wearing Afro hair like this.

Cornrows are also symbolic. Although white people sometimes adopt the style, it’s a black hairstyle, imbued with black culture, and the history of black oppression.

So I think that the schools which ban this hairstyle are on difficult ground, in light of the laws in Britain which outlaw racism. I checked while writing this podcast and saw that my son’s school have actually removed this rule about cornrows.

They just say now that you cannot have beads in your hair. They’re a good school – and they have a very strong anti-racism policy. But something like this hair racism in their policy on uniform, is more subtle. It’s taken them a while to realise it’s racism. But it is good that they’ve removed it.

Examples of the problem of hair racism

And this is an example of a wider problem in British schools and also in other institutions too. It’s interesting that in July 2019, California became the first state to ban ‘hair racism’, to ban these sorts of rules about hair.

There’s a history in the UK too of children being banned from schools, because of a refusal to change their hair. The issues of race and institutionalised racism go wider than this, of course. But these rules over hair show how far we have to go still. In 2018, a boy at Fulham Boys school was told he must remove his dreadlocks or leave the school.

His mother took issue with this and was actually supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. So the school had to back down. Even wearing Afro hair naturally, in what’s been called an Afro style can attract this kind of hair racism. One girl, Ruby Williams, was in dispute with her school in south London, because they claimed that her hair was ‘too big’ – it was ‘distracting for other pupils’. All this girl had done was to let her hair grow.

The message seems to be that if you’re black, you can’t wear your hair in styles that are tradition for black Afro hair and you have to comply with the norms of how white people wear their hair. But the message also seems to be, even if you just let your hair grow in its natural state, that’s not OK either. You have to conform, reduce its volume, make it perhaps like a white person’s hair!

It’s about your heritage

So this is starting to be talked about, starting to be recognised. Your hair, just like your skin – is one of the things which show your ancestry, your heritage, who your ancestors were. And your ancestors, A-N-C-E-S-T-O-R-S are your grandparents and your grandparents’ grandparents. And there’s tradition in the way that hair is worn.

Britain does at least have fairly good laws, against racism, which is important. And these laws are there a guide for times like these, where we’re having to rethink. We’re having to challenge things which have previously had been the norm.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

So I’ve focused just on schools and hairstyles in this podcast. But when I think about something like ‘hair racism’, it probably extends further much than that. If it’s like this in school, does it affect say, a job interview for example? That’s perhaps another podcast for another time. Let us know what you think of this issue. Let us know if you’ve experienced racism related to your hair.

So there you are. Hopefully our podcasts will help you if you’re learning how to speak English. They’ll help you learn English speaking and improve your spoken English while hopefully at the same time giving you a point of view, something to think about.


Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.




The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
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