By Jeniel Lamb
The month of August is usually a month of pride and patriotism for Jamaican people. A time to be happy and proud of our island, our heritage and our culture. This year, however, may show different sides to our “local coin”. Many are still upset, concerned or even confused by a recent ruling by the Supreme Court on a young girl’s loc’d hair and her acceptance into a notable primary school in St. Catherine. The court made their ruling that the school not accepting her based on her loc’d hair is not unconstitutional. Which in all rights, it may not be a breach of the constitution because our fore fathers never made it their priority to speak about hair and other seemingly trivial issues. They were more concerned with freedom; whether of speech, freedom to vote or just our freedom as people.
The lack of breach, however, doesn’t mean that schools should have the right to say “You are not allowed in my school until you trim your hair!”
There are even claims that the little girl’s hair actually featured extensions and my question to those claims is “Why does it matter?” Does freedom of expression via hair styling prevent children from learning?
It has been such a confusing concept for me since my time in school. My hair has no part in what I learn, how I study and what role I play in society. The standing argument is that school prepares you for the professional world and I am still yet to understand how my hair colour affects my work and how much productivity I give to a company.
It is so easy to be proud of our country and its heritage but some of our customs are outdated and colonially based. We are looking behind us in search of the answers and asking systems that aren’t equipped for 21st century issues. Schools and office spaces have the capability to change how they operate without court rulings. A child shouldn’t need to be in court to prove her worth for a school. Her aptitude and manner of conduct should be enough.
The argument that our society uses locs and rastafarianism as a tourism tool and yet we still have students being shunned based on the same expressions of self is one worth looking into.
People tend to forget that the same people singing “One Love” now were the same ones 50 years ago who shunned Bob Marley as anti-system and therefore a threat to society. The majority of our Grammy winners are of the loc’d variety and the majority of our major films highlighting our country has the “Rasta Man” troupe.
Once the world hears Jamaica they think “rasta” and that has to do with what the tourism industry used the “rasta” for. The appropriation of rastafarianism for export is seen in our art, music, films and fashion. The culture of “rasta” has been used to make the country money without paying homage to the men and women who have been scorned, low balled and ostracized.
We as a nation have every right to be proud of our country and should be able to celebrate this month but we should also be looking into giving credit where it is due, changing rules that are outdated and giving our people the creative freedom to be their most true and honest selves.
That’s what emancipation and independence looks like in the 21st century.