In a period of heightened sensitivity surrounding the rights and freedom of black people the world over, there could not have been a worse time for the Jamaican Supreme Court to make a ruling in what ultimately prohibited a child from attending their preferred school due to the style of their hair.
On Friday the 31st of July, in the case of ZV vs Kensington Primary School et al, the Supreme Court ruled that the “child’s constitutional rights, as pleaded, were not breached”. The ruling also stated that while she had a right as a minor to public education, she had no right to attend any particular public institution and as such, Kensington Primary was within their rights to deny her access. The fact that such a case had to be put before the courts in 2020, demonstrates just how far behind we are as a nation.
That ‘brand Jamaica’ propagates and perpetuates the Rastafarian image, most notably the Dreadlocked hairstyle as part of our culture, demonstrates the level of hypocrisy that has long permeated our beloved country. In the year 2020, the speaker of the House of Representatives is allowed to preside over discussions of our nation’s interest wearing a Peruke (white wig worn in UK by judges etc) and yet, a Jamaican child has ultimately been denied access to a school of her choice because of her Dreadlocked hair.
A lot has been said about her parents’ decision to pursue the matter, with plenty of people cautioning them to find another school that supports such an expression, and while there’s always that option, it should not be lost upon us that this does not only affect the Virgo family. This ruling will undoubtedly serve as precedence (not necessarily judicial) for any other school so compelled, for any other school sharing in such troglodytic thinking, to ban a student wearing a similar style of hair.
This is a policy (an unwritten one no less) implemented by Kensington Primary, that speaks volumes and highlights just how deeply entrenched the stigma of “dutty rasta” is in the fiber of our society. It shows that Jamaica still has an identity crisis that has long plagued our society since the Emancipation of slavery in Jamaica. It was only 57 years ago that Dreadlocked Rastas were hunted and killed in arguably the nation’s most heinous act against the Rastafarian movement. And though not as traumatic an experience as our slain brothers 57 years ago, it is sad that in 2020 a school principal could cite past experiences with unkempt Dreadlocked hair as the reason to deny a child access to education at a specific institution, who sported a similar hairstyle.
That such a judgement be passed on the eve of Emancipation Day seemed almost scripted. It was as if the stars aligned simply to demonstrate the constant hypocrisy that people of a darker hue face daily in Jamaica. This time Dreadlocked hair, previous times “unkempt” natural hair; particularly boys who grow their “coarse” hair an inch taller than their scalp. Yet, their light-skinned classmates eluded punishment and reprimand due to the more preferred texture of their hair, regardless of the height.
And while a lot of us are infuriated with the court’s decision and the school’s refusal to admit the child, it is important to understand the arguments set forth by both the claimant/s and defendant/s, because while we the public may view the court’s decision as wrong, it is the duty of the child’s attorney to present a winnable case in court, despite what we the public may think.
Perhaps then, our ire should be directed not only at the presiding judge, the constitution or even our legislators on this ruling, but also on the child’s attorney. It should be deemed an indictment on the attorney’s approach and strategy which possibly, effectively put the family in a winless position.
Still, in 2020, regardless of who is to be held responsible, no Jamaican should be denied any opportunity in our society because of the style of their hair; be it school, work, places of worship or recreation or publicly accessed spaces.
Written By: Jason McPherson