Jamaica’s Supreme Court’s rule in favour of Kensington Primary for trying to bar a child with dreadlocks from attending the school met severe criticism. Like Minister Grange, perhaps we should all wait for the reasoning behind the ruling to be released before passing judgement on the courts. That this case went to court, however, raises an ongoing problem in Jamaican schools and organizations.
Jamaicans have long complained about the grooming policies schools mandate. Even where the policies are benign, e.g. insisting male students’ hair be “properly groomed with a conventional low haircut”, they were often Eurocentric in practice, only applying to students with kinky or afro hair. While we often associate dreadlocks with Rastafari and black people, the style is actually centuries-old and found across races. The sadhus, holy persons in Hinduism and Jainism, wear locs as a show of their commitment to their religion and disregard for vanity and worldly possessions. While some schools, thankfully, allow dreadlocks on the basis of religion, as Morgan Heritage informed the world, contrary to popular belief you don’t actually haffi dread to be rasta. To many people, dreadlocks are just another hairstyle option, akin to braids and blowouts.
Or so it seemed. This case shows there are still some unsavoury misconceptions about the style. Let’s dispel a few myths. While some still believe those with locs cannot or do not wash their hair regularly, in fact, locs can be and are washed as often as loose natural hair. Though locs can indeed ‘hang on’ to everything from lint to certain hair products, this is largely an issue of improper maintenance rather than a problem with the hairstyle itself. While some people “freeform” growing locs, many now visit hair salons and use more “systematic” approaches. The result is neat, symmetrical locs, like that of the Kensington student.
Should hair really be a determinant in whether or not a child is granted an education? Why do Jamaican schools have so much say in how a person wears their hair? One could argue that having too laissez-faire an attitude may result in the outlandish. However, we must also face the unfortunate reality that innate biases still inform preferences and standards. Social conditioning often dictates what people consider to be neat, attractive hair. And we know, Jamaica’s social conditioning can be problematic.
If schools are going to deny a child’s right to education on the grounds of policies based on dubious reasoning, then we must question whether they can be trusted to educate our next generation. As Marcus Garvey said, “Do not remove the kinks from your hair - remove them from your brain.”