Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Alando Terrelonge | Lawks, leave locks alone!

Published:Wednesday | September 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Alando Terrelonge, state minister in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.

As we commence the new school term, I pause to reflect on recent discussions concerning the discrimination of a young Jamaican girl with dreadlocks at a primary school in St Catherine, who was reportedly told by the principal that she would not be allowed to attend school in September with that hairstyle. Chief among the principal's alleged reasons was that there was a health risk of lice infection.

When I first saw the news report, I thought, "This can't be a real story! In 2018 independent Jamaica?! When our Parliament has parliamentarians with locks? When many schools now have students and teachers with locks? When doctors, lawyers, judges, nurses and many other professionals have locks?"

That a child and her mother could suffer such indignity at a public school and be singled out like folk suffering from the plague and be given an ultimatum to cut her locks or be denied an education at an institution of their choice is a tragedy and an indictment on our culture, our education system, and those in positions of authority at our schools.

When I had first read the story, I recall being angry and disappointed and immediately tweeting:

"It took me 1 year before I got a job when I left law school because I refused to cut my hair ... Those days of discrimination MUST be behind us. People must be able to express themselves for religious or other personal reasons within the ambit of the law without fear of discrimination."

There are some stakeholders in the education system who posit the view that our schools should be autonomous and that there is no need for the ministry to dictate policy to them as to how principals and boards should run their schools.

There are others who hold the view that while it is the purview of the ministry to set a policy framework for the governance of our schools, the said framework must consist of general guidelines as to how schools should be administered without, for example, specifically highlighting what constitutes well-groomed hair or dress among students.

ABUSE OF POWER

The folly of both arguments is that where a ministry leaves schools with complete autonomy, or sets a policy framework to guide principles without specific stipulations for what grounds "well-groomed" hair or dress, we risk persons in authority misinterpreting principles or abusing power while forgetting the need to balance their authority without excluding others who may not look, dress or express the same religious beliefs as they do.

As we start the new school term, let us never forget that a sound education for all must be the fundamental principle of every education institution if we are to truly develop the human capital of our nation.

In the case currently before the court, may the child's tale lead to greater cultural and identity acceptance, and may she always be brave in the face of adversity.

From Bob Marley, to Protoje and countless other Jamaican cultural icons who are Rastafarian or wear locks, locks have become an international symbol of our rich cultural heritage that has been admired and celebrated the world over. It is also a symbol of resistance, justice and social change.

Alando Terrelonge is state minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport and member of parliament for East Central St Catherine. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and alandoterrelonge@mcges.gov.jm, or tweet @terrelonge2016.