Emancipendence and unlocking hair discrimination

Emancipendence and unlocking hair discrimination

Alando
Terrelonge

Friday, August 07, 2020

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On August 1, 1834 enslaved Africans in Jamaica and other British colonies received their freedom from slavery. On August 6, 1962, we gained Independence from Britain, making Jamaica an independent democratic nation. As we celebrate this year's Emancipendence we must recognise and honour the memories of our forefathers who fought bravely against a tyrannical colonial system that kept them in bondage for hundreds of years. Our forefathers made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we would live free in democratic societies, where our rights would be protected by law, and our children guaranteed the right to be educated, free from discrimination and prejudice.

Our ancestors recognised that there could be no growth or prosperity in any nation that does not prioritise the fundamental rights and freedoms of its children. Principal amongst these rights is the right of every child to receive an education free from discrimination and prejudice. As a Government, and a people, we hold this belief and salute our forefathers for fighting bravely to ensure the fundamental rights and freedom we enjoy today.

Under the Education Act, the administration of all our public educational institutions is vested in the respective boards of management that have been appointed for each institution. Under the Education Regulations 1980, the power to make school rules is entrusted to school boards in consultation with staff and students of the institution.

In September 2018 the ministry developed the Student Dress and Grooming Policy in accordance with principles of moderation and non-discriminatory norms, health, cleanliness, and decorum. These guidelines were developed following a series of consultations with key stakeholder groups, inclusive of the church, students, parents, principals, teachers, and school boards.

The education ministry has categorically stated over the years that school grooming rules must be rights-based and that no student is to be prevented from admission or attendance at a public educational institution by reason of non-conformity with a school rule prohibiting a particular hairstyle in circumstances where the wearing of that hairstyle by the student is based on religious or health reasons.

The dynamic nature of living in a modern democratic society is that rules and norms change. Times change, students change, school boards and administrators change, cultural norms change, policies change, and so too must laws.

In late 2019 I recommended that the Act be amended to reflect a modern and culturally inclusive provision that prevents our children from being barred from any educational institution on the basis of wearing locks as an ordinary hairstyle, irrespective of religious reasons. My recommendation notes: “No child must be discriminated against or denied access to any school, educational institutions, or any place of learning on the basis of that child wearing locs.” My hope and goal are that, as a ministry, we get school boards and educators to adhere to the policy of the Government, and have it reflected in revised grooming policies that protect the rights of all children. I commit to the amendment of the Education Act and its regulations to rectify all anomalies which allow for discrimination against any of our children.

There is a natural mystic flowing through my hair. As we all move forward as stakeholders in the education of our nation's children, we must move away from any view that locs are a deterrent to or distraction from a good education/learning practices, or that locs are a source of bad hygiene and disorder in class. Locs have become an international symbol of our rich Jamaican cultural heritage that is admired and celebrated the world over. Locs themselves have become a symbol of the global movement of black pride and black excellence. In that regard, our school boards, principals, and educators must recognise that schools are not just institutions of academic pursuit, but that they also serve as lifelong learning centres in the truest and widest sense, where children are moulded into complete social beings. They are centres where they learn a greater appreciation of self, pride, history of their people, the importance of their cultural heritage, and where they learn to respect the rights of others. Schools must never be seen as centres of discrimination or centres that perpetuate negative stereotypes of our society.

As we celebrate our Emancipendence, we must unlock ourselves from the vestiges of colonial oppression that view black hair and black hairstyles as unkempt, unclean, or unhygienic. Let us never forget that a sound education for all must be the fundamental principle of every educational institution, public or otherwise, if we are truly to develop the human capital of our nation.

Alando N Terrelonge is a Member of Parliament and minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or @terrelonge2016 and alando.terrelonge@moey.gov.jm.


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