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Photography Humphrey Muleba via Unsplash

Jamaica’s Supreme Court allows school to ban dreadlocks

The decision has been called another sign of ‘systemic racism’

Jamaica’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a school’s decision to demand that a seven-year-old student cut her dreadlocks to attend classes, saying the school was within its rights to do so.

The decision comes following a two-year battle after the girl – only identified in court papers as ‘Z’ as she is a minor – was told by Kensington Primary School in Kingston that she must cut her dreadlocks for ‘hygiene’ and ‘discipline’ reasons. Z’s parents Dale and Sherine Virgo plan to appeal the ruling, calling it another sign of “systemic racism.”

“A child was refused because of her Black hair, you know?” said Dale Virgo reports the Washington Post. “It’s so weird that right now in the current climate of the world, in 2020, we are having protests, and Black people are fed up.

“This is an opportunity the Jamaican government and the legal system had to right these wrongs and lead the world and make a change,” he continued. “But they have decided to keep the same system.”

Rastafarians, who account for 2 per cent of Jamaica’s population, alongside others who wear natural hairstyles still face discrimination in Jamaica. Until 2003, when the Constitutional Courts of Jamaica recognized Rastafari as a religion for the very first time, Rastafarians, who wear their hair in dreadlocks for religious reasons, were shaved when prosecuted. Some schools, like Kensington Primary, have guidelines explicitly stating dreadlocks are not permitted while other schools have banned students who refuse to cut them.

In response to the ruling, human rights group Jamaicans for Justice have called for a review of Jamaica's Education Act and the Education Regulations which they say are outdated.

“No child should be denied or threatened with denial of an education because they wear locks. Many children and families across Jamaica have been negatively impacted by this and other unjust rules that police children's appearance in ways that are unreasonable and discriminatory,” the group said in a statement. “In many instances, these rules are simply school administrators’ prejudices ‘dressed up’ and formalised.”

They continue: “We call for a national re-thinking of these restrictions and the values that inform them. We envision a society in which a child's legal right to access education is not secondary to the personal grooming preferences of school administrators.”

Discrimination against natural hairstyles in schools and the workplace has become a global issue. Earlier this year, London student Ruby Williams was awarded an £8,500 settlement in compensation for being repeatedly sent home from school because of her Afro hair. DeAndre Arnold, a senior in Mont Belvieu, Texas, was suspended and banned from attending his high school graduation because of his dreadlocks while in 2018, high school wrestler Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks forcibly cut by a referee in order to not forfeit his match.

In response to cases such as these, a growing number of states in the US have begun introducing legislation that prohibits discrimination in schools and the workplace based on hairstyle and hair texture including bans on afros, dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, and other traditionally black hairstyles. The CROWN Act was first passed by California last year with New York, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Colorado, and Maryland following suit. 

Campaigners in the UK have been working to bring in similar laws to this country. Although workplace discrimination on the basis on gender, race or religion is illegal in the UK there is currently no laws specifically protecting against hair discrimination.