Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Individuality doesn't equal indiscipline

Published:Tuesday | September 20, 2016 | 9:00 AM

My cousin lives in Japan and is having a real challenge raising her two girls in that society. She's constantly having to reinforce the message to them that being different is part of what makes them special. My cousin is a black Jamaican, her husband is a black American, and so her children don't look like the others around them.

Japan promotes homogeneity. Everyone should blend in. Kids dress alike, sound alike, carry the same school bag, and are encouraged to move and think as a team.

Standing out is frowned upon. Individuality is frowned upon. Modesty and uniformity are the Japanese way.

Industry and tradition, for sure, benefit from this set-up, but the results are not all good. This sameness gives rise to an undercurrent of repressed expression. And anybody who is remotely different from the masses feels like he or she just doesn't belong. There are those who are frustrated because they have been squeezed into this box where they cannot find their unique self. And they feel trapped.

It's for this very reason that dancehall culture has become so popular in the Japanese underground. People are actively seeking a release far different from the rigours and rules to which they have been made to conform. People just want to free up!

Between my own hair journey and the incident at Hopefield Preparatory, and the conversation about teachers and tattoos, and the challenges being faced by my cousin, I got to thinking about what it means to truly be yourself. What right have we to present ourselves to the world the way we see fit?

The argument has been put forward that there's a correlation between conformity and order. There may be truth to that. Japan is a pretty orderly society.

But there are times that diversity and flavour die at the hands of order. I never want to live in that kind of world. I love my freedom.

I don't want to be a drone. It's a short jump in my mind from telling me what to wear, to telling me what to do, to telling me what to think.

And that 'what to think' bit is the real bone of contention for me. In recent reading, I discovered that the US Library stages annually what it calls a Banned Book Week. It celebrates the freedom to read and learn anything no matter who thinks it controversial. It publishes the top 10 books against which people have protested and ensures that they are available in their networks. I love that!

I don't know that society should get to prescribe to me what is neat, or appropriate or acceptable. Obviously, I say all of this within reason. I live in the world with other people, and my own need for individuality shouldn't infringe on the reasonable happiness of my fellow man. If my hair is messy and purple and clean, it should be of no concern to anybody else.

 

Majoring in the minor

 

My own stance on the hair/uniform issue; I find that far too many school administrations major in the minor. They are so caught up in aesthetics and rules at the expense of the real purpose of school. Teach kids how to think for themselves. Get on with the business of educating our children. Encourage them to be different, to express themselves, to embrace their individuality, and be the very best versions of themselves.

When everyone was rocking a Jansport at Campion, one genius guy I knew named Shomari Small had made himself a knapsack out of discarded juice cartons. He did it a little bit to be mischievous and got a good laugh out of everyone he walked by on campus. But it was brilliant!

It was a budding start to recycling, local manufacturing, fashion design, and minimalist living all rolled up in one. Why should the Shomaris of this world be stifled because they choose to be different?

In my opinion, cookie cutter is boring and blah and very un-Jamaican.

The world needs all kinds.To address issues and fuel innovation, we need independent thought and diverse approaches to problem solving. The drones won't change the world. Those who dare to be different will. My children will be different, and so will I.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.