On World Afro Day, we interviewed Mrs Claire Bale, who is the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the GDST, and the Diversity and Inclusion Lead here at NGHS.

Mixed race and curly haired, Mrs Bale shares some of her own hair stories with us.



What is your ethnicity and how would you describe your hair type?

I am mixed race, part West African and part White European. My grandfather was from Nigeria and that’s where I get my hair from.  I’ve got curly Afro hair.



How do you like to wear your hair?

At the moment, I wear it naturally, but I’ve had all sorts of different hair styles in the past. Straightened, relaxed, braided . . . I was in my 30s when I decided to enjoy and embrace my natural curls.



Do you like your hair? And have you always felt that way?

Yes. Nowadays I do like my hair. It’s fun and funky and is a large part of my visual identity. It took me a while to work out how to care for my hair and how to style my curls. Growing up, no-one I knew had hair like mine. As a child I wished with all my heart for straight hair. I wanted to be able to wear the hairstyles my friends had and I wanted to look like the girls in the magazines and more than anything I wanted long hair, that hung down my back, rather than sticking out.



Have you experienced challenges with having hair of this type?

Now that I know how to care for my curls, I would say my hair is pretty easy to maintain, but until recently there were very few products available in the UK suitable for my hair type.  There were certainly no products for Afro hair available in mainstream shops and my Mum would take me to specialist hairdressers to have my hair cut. Even living in London in my twenties, I would go to famous hairdressers with my friends before a special occasion and be told that I couldn’t have my hair done there. I remember going to Vidal Sassoon and having to leave because they didn’t know what to do with my hair.

I get a lot of compliments on my hair which is lovely, but it wasn’t always that way. I was inevitably given the name “frizzy” as a child and people would be amazed by the things my hair could and couldn’t do. I remember being laughed at because when I bent down to write in my school books, my plait would stick up behind me. My hair has never been subject to the laws of gravity!

And yes, people touch my hair without permission all the time. In the supermarket, at the theatre, out in a park. I don’t often get offended in the moment, because people are trying to be nice, but if I take the time to think about it, it makes me cross that people who are not White are treated this way. We’re not pets to be patted.



Do you have any role models when it comes to hair?

I have a wonderful hairdresser who has mixed race Afro hair too. She is beautiful and wise and has given me the confidence, skills and tips to look after my hair properly.. There are also some wonderful actresses out there whose hair I’m obsessed with, including Thandie Newton in West World and Natalie Emmanuel in Game of Thrones.  And I have to mention Mel B from the Spice Girls whose mixed race curls were so welcome to my TV screen in my teenage years!



What does The Halo Code mean to you?

The Halo Code is an incredible inspiring organisation. It faces into a sensitive subject that is often only talked about behind closed doors. It addresses the prejudice that many individuals experience because of their hair, from microaggressions that make someone feel “othered”, to policies operated by some organisations banning natural hair from their work place. Hair discrimination is a real issue, and unless you’ve experienced it, you don’t understand it. By raising awareness of the issue, The Halo Code is opening up conversations that enable everyone to learn, to empathise and to make everyone feel included and understood.

What would you say to younger people with hair like yours?

Your hair is beautiful. Wear it with pride and enjoy it.