Michael Abrahams | Stop spread propaganda pon di dread
Me seh fi stop spread propaganda pon di dread
Me seh fi stop spread propaganda pon di dread
Cause di dread nuh have nuh forty-leg inna him head
Seh dat him nuh have no forty-leg inna him head
Me seh me go to di east dem a seh so
Me seh me go to di north dem a seh so
Me seh me go to di south dem a seh so
Me said a run dem a run up dem mout pon di dread
A run dem a run up dem mout pon di dread
Forty-Leg Dread – Prince Mohammed, 1977
One night last week, I visited the hospital to see my post-op patients and ensure that they survived me wielding a scalpel and other instruments to rid them of their pesky fibroid-filled uteri. While in the elevator, after checking on my first survivor, I took out my cell phone, scrolled through my Facebook page and saw a post I was tagged in regarding a five-year-old girl with ‘locks’ who was initially accepted to a primary school, but whose parents were informed that she would not be allowed to commence classes if her hair remained in that style.
As the elevator doors parted and I exited the cabin, a nurse observed the frown on my face and asked what was irking me. I told her of the story about the child and the school and how angry I was.
The nurse quietly pulled me aside and whispered to me that the nursing office is requesting that she pull out her Bantu knots (Chiney bumps) as that style is “inappropriate for work”. I inspected her head and found her knots to be neatly done, as usual. She has been wearing them for years and I have often complimented her on how beautiful they look. Leaving the elevator, I was angry. Now I was livid.
Yes, I do have passionate views about issues such as these. Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of my blackness and how, despite Emancipation and Independence, many of us are still mentally enslaved and held hostage to the Eurocentric values and ideals of those who beat the hell out of our forefathers.
If Queen Victoria had worn dreadlocks or Bantu knots, we would not be having this conversation. Unfortunately, the vestiges of slavery and colonialism stubbornly persist. During my childhood, I recall many people baulking at clothing and accessories that were black, gold/yellow and green, colours associated with not only Rastafari, but with Africa. Interestingly, those same folks were comfortable with the wearing of red, white and blue garments, the colours of the flag of those who oppressed, denigrated, raped, beat, tortured, maimed and killed our ancestors.
Regarding the child at the centre of the controversy, her parents were informed that it is the policy of the school not to allow that hairstyle. But what is the reason? Is there a logical reason? Apparently not. The principal voiced concerns regarding hygiene and ‘lice issues’. Rubbish.
First, the assumption that locked hair is dirty is an asinine one. Any style of hair can be clean or dirty. I have managed many patients who wear dreadlocks and have found them to be no dirtier or less hygienic than other hairstyles.
Second, head lice infestation has little to do with hygiene. The main risk factor is contact with the head of someone who already has the condition. I am a gynaecologist, so you may be wondering what I know about head issues, but check out what the experts have to say:
“Getting head lice is not related to cleanliness of the person or his or her environment. Head lice are mainly spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person.” - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Having head lice does not mean you are dirty. Most people get head lice when they have head-to-head contact with someone who has head lice. The lice do not care whether the person has squeaky-clean hair or dirty hair. The lice are looking for human blood, which they need to survive.” - American Academy of Dermatologists
“Head lice are very common. They cannot fly or jump; neither can they burrow into the scalp. They can affect anyone, with long or short hair, no matter how clean the hair is.” - British Association of Dermatologists.
In an audio recording of a conversation allegedly between the mother of the child and the principal of the school, the teacher spoke of her “35 years' experience” in defending her policy. For an educator in a position of authority over children, she is horribly ignorant. And she is not alone.
Forty years after the song ‘Forty-Leg Dread’ was released, there is still propaganda, ignorance and bias regarding dreadlocks and the people who wear them, for religious or other reasons. It is time we educate ourselves and discard our colonial shackles.
Dr Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.