J Department of Education Dress and Grooming Policy Guidelines it looks good. It contains some of the best and most appropriate words one would expect from a context with highly educated minds. However, when read through the prism of human rights, it is full of weaknesses.
The glossary that introduces the document defines “inappropriate dress” as “the state of a student’s dress and/or presentation that does not meet the standards of the public educational institution that he attends , as stipulated in the student dress code of the institution”.
Initially, the guidelines are vague, leaving students and staff at the mercy of public educational institutions, or their leaders, to determine what is an acceptable standard. . MOEYI Student Dress and Grooming Policy Guidelines, 2018, notes that among the concerns of students are “greater student participation in the rule-making process and in the governance of the school in general”; and “the rules must be just and not arbitrarily determined or dependent on the inclination of the principal”. One of the most telling sections that speaks to current concerns is the one that states: “In addition, students were concerned that the rules were non-discriminatory,” adding that grooming standards should not be more permissive for students based on their ethnic origins: being proud of their African heritage; however, this becomes difficult when this same heritage is used as a pretext for discrimination” and further “…we recommend that a clear definition be created for ‘carefully cared for’. This should prevent schools from moving the line in the sand at their own discretion.
The paper, with reference to articles by Jaevion Nelson, observes: “The rules that dictate how students must do their hair raise complex, culturally sensitive and deeply emotional legal issues for a number of reasons. However, we are still having this conversation because it is not enough for the MOEY to just make these valuable observations. There are school administrators who lack the ability to think beyond their academic qualifications and religious views! This is why it is so important for the creation of a standard consistent with the principles of human rights, and those surrounding universality and indivisibility in particular.
There are elders of discipline and school principals who simply quote 1 Corinthians 11:14: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, is a shame for him?
Something is wrong when this is used to justify addressing an African-Jamaican boy whose hair has grown to two inches. Sometimes the abuse is completed with “A Rasta yu a tun now?” The principle of universality is violated when it is acceptable for a girl to wear a six-inch afro to school; but too bad for a boy to wear a two inch afro. The only universal hair rule in schools is the one regarding artificial color and pearls. The elephant in the room is an African hair.
Students should not have to make religious arguments to protect their natural African hairstyle. The guideline aptly notes that “the manner in which hair is worn is one of the most visible means of self-expression, providing an avenue for the outward manifestation of a person’s identity and image. …many religions have religious observances relating to Hair; as do the cultural practices and traditions of people from different regions or ethnic groups. For some people, therefore, a deep and abiding spiritual association or connection exists between the the way they wear their hair and their self-conception, their very personality, that goes far beyond popular culture or mere fashion trends.MOEY risks producing a word salad where those words are plain and simple , not being digested by the powers that be in many schools.
The document actually reflects the wisdom in stating, “Finally, it is important to note that restrictions on hair imposed by a dress code may impact the individual beyond the scope of the organization in private life. of the individual. For example, hair cut to conform to school rules will not grow back to any appreciable length during school holidays and vacations. The short hair requirement for male students will therefore affect a student until they leave formal school or transfer to another institution with more permissive standards. This is a long overdue call to MOEY to affirm natural African hairstyles; to go beyond the guidelines to clearly state that students and staff are free to wear Nubian/Bantu knots (Chinese bumps), dreadlocks, braids, kinky twists, etc.
The policy directives beautifully affirm the rights and the issue of inclusion on the part of the child as a stakeholder in the rights. But what are the mechanisms in place to ensure that this actually happens in schools? Is the ministry aware of the number of schools that have complied with the preferred best practices when compiling these guidelines? Does the ministry have access to the information contained therein?
These are issues that parent/teacher associations, the church and other stakeholders should engage with. It’s time to stop waiting for the next hair feud in the news, followed by the usual anger and calls for justice. The MOEY should lead and facilitate rules and guidelines, informed by human rights principles.
In a country where we have often revered the long-haired images of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, and Bob Marley, the Rasta, there is an urgent need to move beyond the racist, classist and white supremacist value systems that continue to protect and promote European aesthetics. Let’s empower our children to think, to express themselves, to be themselves, to love their identity and to resist anti-African systems of oppression.
Prof. Sean Major-Campbell is an Anglican priest and human rights advocate. Please send your comments to columns @gleanerjm.com and [email protected]