Wed | May 22, 2019

Oberlene Smith-Whyte | The matter of hair is here again

Published:Sunday | August 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this 2005 photo children with dreadlocks share lunch with their friends.

There is always this big hullabaloo about bleaching and the chastising of people of the lower economic strata of society for the bleaching of their skin.

Bleaching is not only common to Jamaica but is a phenomenon all around the world. While the lower economic group can only afford cake soap or cheap creams, more affluent members of the society will go to their dermatologist where the more expensive bleaching products can be prescribed. Maybe, the difference is that the cake soap was not meant for skin and therefore damages the skin.

Many reasons are given for bleaching, from a cool complexion to acceptance by the society. While some may scoff at the idea of the latter, we are only fooling ourselves, and in denial, if we say otherwise.

In the same way that children look at the hypocrisy of adults who preached honesty and integrity to them and run the red light with the child in the back seat of the car before cursing when they are stopped by police, it is the same way that the lower strata of the society look at the hypocrisy of the upper echelon who do not accept them but keep telling them to accept themselves.




While this big furore is ongoing about bleaching, there is a general acceptance of the long flowing curly or straight hair some of our women wear, which obviously isn't theirs. Yes, their long curly hair is totally accepted. This is how we should look. We embrace this European look.

It is no big deal about the damage caused by the dye, paste, and glue to the skin. Some women have to wear a wig permanently because of receding hairline or because of damaged hair, but this is accepted by a people who do not accept themselves at different levels of the society. What is the difference between this and bleaching? Can we not see the hypocrisy?

On the very day we were celebrating 56 years of independence, it appeared in The Gleaner, 'Court clears way for dreadlocked child to start school' A child, well-groomed and wearing her God-given hair, is being given ultimatum and ostracised. Our hair is not good enough. Our hair is not accepted by the same society that is denouncing bleaching. When will we get it?




I find it rather disturbing to think that, as black people, we find time to belabour issues such as a mere Afrocentric appearance of our people. It is very sad to know that we have been independent for 56 years and we still have not acknowledged our true and natural selves, and our heritage.

Gone are the days when locked hair was left to grow natural, now it is well-groomed and styled. This is now an accepted corporate hairstyle in Jamaica, a hairstyle that originates in Jamaica, and we should be proud of ourselves.

This is a hairstyle that is envied and copied from North America to South Africa. Why are we proud to don a wig that models our colonisers and is still afraid to walk tall with our natural hair?

Why are we ashamed of whom we are as a people?

Why are we still struggling with an identity issue?

Why are we forcing and/or encouraging our men and women to represent someone, or something, other than themselves?

The rest of the world is so encouraged by Jamaica, so proud to associate with us, so proud to model us, but we still cannot celebrate ourselves. We are still suffering from inferiority complex. Our kinky hair does not look good, our hair look too tough and ugly, we have 'bad head.'

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to grow up.

I am hoping good and proud Jamaicans will stand beside this child and not allow her to be executed by a system of intolerance.

- Oberlene Smith-Whyte retired from the Jamaica Constabulary Force recently, having risen to the rank of superintendent. She was also recently named among the persons to be appointed as a Member of the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for 2018. Feedback: