‘Mr. Speaker, I Will Continue To Rock These Braids’: Why MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes Spoke Out In Parliament

Chatelaine asked what spurred the speech — and what the reaction to it has been like.

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Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Liberal MP who represents Whitby, Ontario, gave a powerful speech in the House of Commons for all the girls and women out there who feel “different” last week. She started off by explaining why she chose to wear braids, and took the opportunity to send a message to Black girls and women to wear their hair with pride.

“It has come to my attention that there are young girls here in Canada and other parts of the world who are removed from school, or shamed because of their hairstyle,” she said. “Body shaming of any woman in any form from the top of her head to the soles of her feet is wrong, irrespective of her hairstyle, the size of her thighs, the size of her hips, the size of her baby bump, the size of her breasts or the size of her lips, what makes us different is what makes us unique and beautiful,” she said.

Her speech went viral, after the HuffPost, AJ+ and Now This picked it up, and she even got props from rapper Eve.

Caesar-Chavannes, a rookie MP who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, isn’t new to speaking out on delicate issues. She opened up about her experience with depression by writing about it on HuffPost last year. “Owning my depression is my therapy,” she wrote. “Talking about it, in my opinion, gives others permission to talk about mental health as well.”

Chatelaine asked the MP from Whitby what spurred her speech and what the reaction to it has been like. Here’s what she said:

The catalyst was really an incident that occurred in Toronto, where a young Black girl was removed from school because of her natural hair [referring to an incident at a school two years ago where a 13-year-old was called into her principal’s office because her hair was “too poofy”]. This has been happening over and over in other parts of the world. I figured if I did not use my voice, who would. The situation with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna  just reemphasized to me the need to speak up. It is not just about Black girls. It is about women; particularly women of colour, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, and various genders. We need to speak up and understand that vulnerable women have challenges in school, in the workplace, and in society as a whole. So I braided my hair and wrote the speech before returning to Ottawa from Whitby. This is an important conversation to have, and I am glad that the message has been shared throughout Canada and around the world.

The reaction has been so positive and supportive. There are a couple of themes that came through from messages I received. The first was in messages from Black women, who were glad that I was raising awareness about the discrimination they and their daughters face at work and at school. Most said that they were going to “rock” their braids, or dreads, or super-curly Afro puffs, proudly from then on.

The second was from women, who in general love their curves and uniqueness. They loved the message, and felt that it gave them a boost in their stride and instilled a feeling of self-love in their daughters and themselves.

The third was from men (one bald, white and 72 years old, who didn’t understand what it meant to have “dope” braids — I called him and explained that it was the same as being cool or fantastic). These men were proud of the message and shared it with the women and girls in their lives.

Finally, I received messages celebrating MPs Yasmin Ratansi and Kate Young, who were sitting behind me and visibly supporting me through the speech. I was able to braid my hair and give this speech because I know that I am surrounded by a caucus who would not leave me hanging out on a limb. A lot of women who look like me do not have that type of environment around them. I value our team, and I value the leadership our Prime Minister has shown in promoting feminism, in all its shapes and wonderfully dope forms!