The Surprise Court, I mean Supreme Court of Jamaica’s ruling on July 31, in regard to dreadlocks hair styles at schools is very profound as it came the day before Emancipation Day 2020 in Jamaica, August 1. In short, the supreme court ruled, that the demand for a schoolgirl to cut her dread locs to attend classes was within the rights of the school and did not violate the child’s rights.
The ruling given by the Supreme Court of Jamaica has ended a two-year-long David vs Goliath battle between a little girl with dread locs (David) and a “high class” primary school along with the government of Jamaica (Goliath). In contrast to the biblical David and Goliath, in this account, David lost to Goliath as the Courts claimed that this David is not an authentic “Israelite” but Goliath is a real Philistine.
The facts of the case are that a little five-year-old girl, in 2018, applied to become a student at a prominent primary school. After being accepted but before attending the school, during orientation, the child’s mother was told that the unwritten “rules and policies” of the school do not support the wearing of “braids, beads and locks” for hygiene purpose. In regards to locks, past experiences had shown students with locks had lice and “junjo” in their hair. The mother was given the option of cutting the child’s hair or “run the risks of losing the child’s place at the school”. Importantly, the parents of the child are not Rastafarians. Their religion was not mentioned.
The then principal of the school and the child’s mom, two strong heads, refused to yield and after intervention at the local level the matter reached the Supreme Court of Jamaica.
SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT
Peter Tosh – Lion, Iron Zion. There are lots of guys who wear dreadlocks who is one million miles away from Rasta. They are like night to day. Seen. And I know the concept of Rasta means RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The learned judges seem to support Peter Tosh, for once. They could have simply referred to the lyrics in Peter Tosh’s “Lion Zion”,
“locs on your head, talking bout you dread, and you believe that is all. Long hair on you face and your works is disgrace. You and the wicked them must fall. And now you talking about lion, iron but you far from Zion”.
The judgement is a bit blunt but then again, Peter Tosh is also blunt and honest. The learned judges reasoned that:
- A child’s right of expressions and religion is protected but the child must prove he or she belongs to a religion. The little girl is not a Rastafarian and cannot claim rights of a Rasta if she is not a Rasta. Hence no rights of religious freedom of expression were breached.
Basically, the learned judges believed that to claim rights as a Rastafarian the onus is on the complainant to prove that he or she is a Rastafarian as in today’s Jamaica, many “dreadlocs” sporting individuals are far from being Rastafarians.
- Schools have the right to set regulations that would allow them to maintain order and to protect their students against health issues. A policy about hair style that may cause health issues is within the rights of the school.
- At the time of the issue the child was not a student and was not denied an opportunity to get an education.
- A child has a right to education but not a right to “attend a particular school” as there are other schools that may be more suitable to accommodate a child’s lifestyle.
Fortunately, there will be no need to appeal the Supreme Court’s ruling as at the time of writing this blog, the school had decided to accept the child with her dread locs.
NATTY DREAD LOCKS VS DREAD LOCS THING
First thing first, for a population of more than 90% Blacks to be requesting the Supreme Court of Jamaica to decide whether dreadlocks are appropriate for school in 2020 is very telling. I recall, in the 1970s, prominent schools such as Calabar High and GC Foster, in the 1980s, expelled students for growing their dreadlocks and these students were children of “decent middle class citizens”. No “dutty licy dreadlock head pickney thing”. The discrimination based on hair was a white thing or should I say it was a Black thing.
Then again, this dreadlocks thing was not just a Black thing. It was a form of rebellion and protest by conscious Jamaicans who tried to “pull off the disguise of Babylon”. In the 1970s, the Rastafari tradition, a monotheistic religion that draws upon Judaism and nature embraced dreadlocks hair as a religious and natural sentiment. Dread is seen as a fear and a respect. The precept is based on Leviticus 21:5, which reads, “They shall not make bald spots upon their heads, or shave off the edges of their beards, or make any gashes in their flesh.”
However, Numbers 6 is more compelling: The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, 3 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink. 5 During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.
[Do not mix up Nazarite of Numbers 6 with the Nazarenes (citizen of Nazareth) of Matthew 2:23 regarding Jesus: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene].
Ras Karbi : Discrimination – Long hairy freaky people need not apply, no want no old nigger, no Rastafari.
As such, natty dreadlocks or Rasta is more than hairstyle. Rastafari means “head creator” and followers of Rastafari are morally decent. Their lifestyles embody righteousness and they love nature. Drunkenness, adultery, homosexuality, murder, meat eating, stealing, vanity, and material success with a head of dreadlocks do not Rastafari make.
Succinctly, natty dread locks and dread locs are not the same. Natty Dread Locks locks out the downpression of “Babylon” while dread locs or fashion dreads are hairdo done in the beauty parlour.
Then again, not all Rastafarian communities wear dreadlocks but as an elderly Rastafarian once said in the 1990s, “dreadlocks cannot save a man, but a man cannot get saved without his dreadlocks”.
Bible aside, suffice to say that the first human inhabitants of earth were dreadlocks as there were no razors and combs or any attempt to be vain by changing one’s appearance to look different or more “appealing”.
THE TWO JAMAICA: LAND OF VICTORS AND VICTIMS
When a school has an “unwritten policy” that “braids, beads and locks” are prohibited, due to hygiene reasons, it can conjure images of stereotyping and discrimination. Braids, beads and locks (natty or hairdo) are more associated with Blacks in Jamaica than with any other race and to associate or restrict them to lice and junjo is racist and discriminatory. This is even more appalling bearing in mind that approximately 90% of Jamaicans are black.
Of course, some Jamaicans had and are still supporting banning a child from school because of “natural hairdo”. It highlights the two Jamaicas that coexist in the island: that of ‘victors or whites’ and that of ‘victims or Blacks’.
The first Jamaica began in 1655 when the English captured Jamaica from the Spaniards. The English created a government based on white supremacy that prevailed even after Jamaica became independent in 1962, by the pen and not the gun.
Invariably, all the rules, laws, regulations of Jamaica were done to protect and perpetuate the interest of the whites. Education, religion, the bible, public laws, ordinances and Police Force were all created to reflect and protect the images and wishes of the victors or whites.
Christianity and the Bible even endorsed slavery and for good measures, the church owned slaves. Even beauty and Jesus Christ were portrayed as Caucasian. As such, charred skin and kinky hair were frown upon and degraded.
Black and sin were synonymous and should be conquered as depicted by the insignia of the governor general that show a white St Michael standing on the neck of a chained black man.
Still, I be always laughing like a clown. Won’t someone help me ’cause I (sweet life)
I’ve got to pick myself (sweet life) from off the ground. I said life, sweet life must be somewhere to be found, instead of this concrete jungle
Blacks were not seen as human beings and had two choices: act white or suffer black. In short, act, dress, look and be white and you will be all right. If you are brown, you may stick around. Of course, we must not forget that it was illegal for Black slaves to be educated. Regrettably, even in 2020, this is the unwritten rule as we see in the yearly economic challenges of parents trying to get their children into school.
SAM COOKE – A change is gonna come: “Then I go, oh-oo-oh, to my brother and I say, brother, help me please. But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees, oh. There’ve been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long. But now I think I’m able to carry on It’s been a long, a long time comin”’
Blacks in Jamaica, after Emancipation in 1838, Adult Suffrage in 1944, and Independence in 1962, got a bit of freedom that allow them to participate in the white man’s Jamaica. Sadly, those Blacks who went into business, church and politics, somehow, became whiter than the queen of England. There were no real attempts to totally change the system to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the majority of the population.
It would appear that, ceteris paribus, if the Virgos were Rastas, the court would have ruled in their favour and the child’s freedom of religious expression would be upheld. Nevertheless, to prevent a black skinned child from attending a school based on locks on his head is an indirect way of advising a majority black population that dread locks not wanted.
As mentioned, it reflects the sentiments of the oppressive “Babylonian” system that rules Jamaica and one can either accept or reject it. Of course, the Serenity Prayer comes in: Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
As we see the throes of change that are embattling the establishment, most noteworthy the Black Lives Matter struggle, we can feel heartened that even if the system is not toppled immediately, at least the level of consciousness would have risen.
This consciousness hopefully will not be a “one night stand” or a fling of our emotions but instead, a deep relationship that will bond our minds, body and soul. Yes, it is not effective or genuine to be fighting a system and yet embracing its actions, whether wittingly or unwittingly.
History reminded me that in the 1970s to 1980s, Peter Tosh et al, keep telling us and reminding us that the Jamaican system (religion, education, politics, commerce status quo) was evil and we should struggle and fight to topple and destroy it. History remembered how you were all cussing Peter Tosh: dirty head natty dreadlocks ganja smoking scum who was giving the Jamaican society a bad image. You banned his music, imprisoned him, broke his arms and cracked his skull. History remembered you, not as a freedom fighter but as fighter against freedom.
WHEN Peter Tosh was telling us to be dignified as Blacks, what did you do? You were there getting your skin bleached to get brown to comply with Babylon wishes; ironing and processing your hairs to get rid of the kink so you would look white; frowning at us when we speak patois and not the Queen’s English; allowing our membership in churches and giving us a white Jesus salvation for our tithe and offerings yet we were not allowed in the house.
History remembered you and we will forgive you but not forget. We do hope, this time though, you will join us, not by lip service but by actions. It is really important that we not only get rid of the shackles from our feet and hands but also from our minds.
Bob Marley – Redemption Song: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery as None but our self can free our minds. Have no fear for atomic energy, ‘Cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets, While we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it, We’ve got to fulfill di book
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had