Jamaica’s Supreme Court Rules That School Can Ban Child With Dreadlocks (No, We’re Not Kidding)

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A statue of reggae artist Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica.

A statue of reggae artist Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica.
Photo: Shutterstock (Shutterstock)

If you’ve ever heard the statement ‘anti-Blackness is global’ and wondered what it truly meant, consider this news: the Supreme Court in Jamaica, an island whose population is around 80 percent Black people, has ruled in favor of a school that said a seven-year-old could not attend their classes unless she cut her dreadlocks.

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“I expected that Jamaica would lead the charge against somewhat systemic racism as it relates to our hair,” the child’s father Dale Virgo told the Jamaica Gleaner of the decision, which came after the Kensington Primary School said in 2018 that his daughter needed to cut her hair for reasons of ‘discipline’ and ‘hygiene,’ a policy which the country’s government said was legitimate.

You may expect Jamaica to lead the charge too, given that the Caribbean country proudly boasts itself as the birth of Bob Marley—possibly the world’s most well-known wearer of dreadlocks—and honors its son Marcus Garvey—who spoke of Blackness as “a glorious symbol of national greatness”—as a national hero.

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But it actually took an injunction from the court against Jamaica’s Ministry of Education for the little girl in question to even be allowed to attend the school in question while wearing her natural Black hair.

From the Jamaica Gleaner:

The Supreme Court had granted an injunction for the child to attend school after Jamaicans for Justice filed a motion on behalf of the child and her parents in August 2019. Her mother said that her daughter has performed exceptionally in the two years she has been at the institution, despite the controversy surrounding her hairstyle. Virgo said that her daughter topped her class for both the first and second year and was looking forward to going into grade three this September.

“The most I can do as a Jamaican, as a mother, is to continue to instill good values in my child and continue to encourage her and continue to let her know that she is beautiful regardless,” she said.

There is a strong thread of anti-Blackness and colonialism that exists in Jamaica, exemplified by the irony that this ruling came right as the country is celebrating the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves there on August 1, 1834.

Rastafarians, who follow a philosophy grounded in Blackness, have historically experienced persecution and discrimination from the Jamaican government, including a state-sponsored massacre of them in 1963—a few years after the country gained its independence from Britain.

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Though the Virgos are not adherents of the Rastafarian religion, the couple’s attorney Isat Buchanan told the Washington Post that the ruling against their daughter wearing her Black hair in natural locks, “marks an unfortunate for Black people and for Rastafarian people in Jamaica.”

“This is an opportunity the Jamaican government and the legal system had to right these wrongs and lead the world and make a change,” the child’s father told WaPo.“But they have decided to keep the same system.”

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Despite happily promoting Jamaicans with dreadlocks in commercials that encourage tourists to visit the island, elected leaders there seem to have little allegiance to the cultural exemplifiers of Jamaican Blackness that they happily leverage to sell the country to foreigners.

“I’m very cautious about where I tread, especially on a sensitive enough subject like that,” said the country’s Minister of Education Karl Samuda, in declining to make a comment on the ruling to the Washington Post.

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The Virgo family says they plan to appeal the decision, which could mean it goes to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom— still the country’s ultimate court of appeal.

How ironic would it be if Jamaica’s ‘former’ colonial masters end up being the ones to make the nation celebrate the Blackness in their own people?

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