The pre-Independence Day ruling in the Supreme Court of Jamaica that the “no braids, no beads, no locks” policy of Kensington Primary School did not violate the constitutional right to freedom of expresion of the seven-year-old daughter of Sherine and Dale Virgo caused public uproar, brought international attention and ushered me into reflection. However, I will not be commenting on the judgement; I will be sharing my perspective on the male hair grooming policies of a sample of traditional high schools in Jamaica.
Jamaica College Student Handbook, Updated July 2018, page 19
Fashion and trends do not dictate the school’s hair requirements for students.
Campion College Student/Parent Handbook, 2019, page 45, 51
Boys 1st to 5th Form
Sixth form boys
Wolmer’s Boys' School Handbook, 2018, page 18, 44
Under “Standards and Expectations” paragraph 8 states: “Grooming and etiquette: The Wolmerian is one who is ‘a cut above the rest’ in his presentation of self; he observes the highest sartorial standards, ensuring that his look is akin to that of the young professional.”
Norms and Expectations
Grooming: ‘Proper grooming’ is the rule of thumb. However, we understand that with relativity, fashion and subjectivity, the claim of every individual [to] this rule of thumb has still to be defined. We would want our First to Fifth Form young men to turn out each day looking Wolmer’s smart: low hair that is neatly combed;
St. George’s College Student Handbook Revised 2014, page 29-30
The Georgian Uniform Consists of
viii. Low-cut hair, clean shaven face.”
Designs in hair and eyebrows are not allowed and eyebrows should not be shaven. Mohawks, dying, bleaching, extreme fades, chemical processing and gelling of hair are also unacceptable.
Calabar High School, Extracts from the School Code, page 1
Students Dress Code and Grooming
Students should be properly groomed for school regardless of race, religion, socio-economic situation, age, ideology and trend. This means that the dress for each student should be tidy and should conform to conventional standards of neatness and hygiene. Faces must be clean-shaven. A student who decides not to cut and or comb his hair because of a fashion trend will not be accommodated, as this constitutes a breach.
Hairstyle: Hair must be combed and cleaned; and should conform to the dictates of the school.
Low haircut. Yay, even the “conventional low haircut”. This resonates as a recurring standard in determining the appropriateness of the hairstyle. Of the five schools sampled only Jamaica College stated a specific length. In the other schools low appears to be relative to the judgement of the authorities. At Calabar the appropriateness of the hairstyle which includes the length must “conform to the dictates of the school”. The dictates. Big sigh. Calabar's full student handbook could not be found online so I will give them the benefit of the doubt that in the full text the ambiguity of this loosely suggested hair dictatorship is justly and fairly clarified.
What all these public institutions are documentarily silent on is that the appropriateness of the male student’s hairstyle is inextricably linked to the texture of his hair. They would not dare, almost two hundred years after emancipation, put it in writing but in their minds, it is branded. The rules governing hair grooming are sufficiently vague so that it allows the enforcer to conduct their policing on bases that they can keep to themselves. Let me illustrate.
Journey with me. Put the black man pictured here beside a Latino, Asian or Caucasian male.
Dress both of them in a khaki suit and a school crest. Place them at the front gate where the dean-of-discipline is inspecting the students on a Monday morning. What do you suppose goes through the mind of the average Jamaican dean of discipline or the dean of any one of those schools named who has to apply the regulations sited above? They must determine what is low? What is conventionally low? At Wolmer’s the dean may have to ask him/herself: “Is this look akin to that of a young professional?”
I have some accusations. Hear me.
I think when the authorities (teacher, dean, principal, administrative staff) consider what is appropriate they categorize hair texture. Thick kinky hair has to be low. Jamaica College seems generous with their one inch but in many schools half an inch of hair is decried. When the authorities look at the Asians, the whites, the Latinos and mixed brethren who have dangling strands that hang, blow in the wind, and whip back and front; they are virtually ignored though their hair length is longer than their kinky haired colleagues. At some point they have to cut their hair. At some point, the rule is invoked against them. I guess when it becomes too obvious that there is discrimination between hair textures the authorities speak up.
Do you think if Jamaica did not have a history of colonial rule from 1655 to 1962 the norms and expectations would look like that at Wolmer’s Boys School? Do you think if we didn’t have a history of a dehumanized black population, a school would tell its black boys in 2020 that in order to look professional their hair needs to be low? And that application of the word low is to demand that they cut their hair before it could even grow to an inch!? Do you think that if Jamaica was populated by “nice hair people”, what constitutes an appropriate haircut as it stands now would be the case in the alternate reality? NO! N-O. No! The view that an appropriate haircut for the black male who has thick kinky hair is a low cut is degenerate, retrograde and downright backward.
I am in absolute agreement that there must be order in an educational institution and that facilitating a free-for all is not conducive to a learning environment. These views address a specific issue within the grooming guidelines popular in Jamaican schools. The idea that black hair must be low to be acceptable in society is unacceptable in our modern society; one that has a predominantly black population.
“Oh so, you’re saying our students must be allowed to grow their hair however they want?”. I am not saying that. Neither am I not saying that.
The maximum limit to which hair growth must be set is not within the scope of my commentary. I don’t need to suggest an acceptable hair length to satisfy the theory that for there to be order there must be a measurable limit. The contention expressed in this article is that we still have public institutions telling our boys that to look decent and to prepare themselves to be citizens and professionals their hair must be low as opposed to their non-black or mixed counter parts with silky hair who don’t look indecent with hair beyond an inch.
The Ministry of Education created the School Dress Code and Grooming Policy in 2018. The first sentence of its preface states:
Schools are microcosms of the wider society and, as such, provide fertile ground for the socialization and preparation of students for the future.
If our schools acknowledge this common understanding of the impact they have on our society they would revisit the restrictions on hair growth. The boards of management would adopt a progressive policy position in furtherance of promoting black identity and shaping a society in which people of African heritage view their God-given features as symbols of pride. The advancement of our school policies is a key element to our emancipation. What future are our students being prepared for exactly? Fertile ground for socialization? Our boys are being socialized to view kinky hair that is not low as unprofessional, unbecoming and unworthy. This tactic of control is reminiscent of the self-hate culivated on the plantation. Is this rule seeking to prepare students for the future or to keep them in the past?
Happy Independence Day, 1962.