Sun | Sep 20, 2020

Dreadlocks prejudices not a matter for 2020, say Jamaicans overseas

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2020 | 12:27 AMKaryl Walker - Senior Sunday Gleaner Writer

The court ruling a week ago that a child’s constitutional rights were not breached by the Kensington Primary School in 2018 when it requested that a then five-year-old’s locks be removed in order for her to enrol in the public institution has triggered strong reactions in the diaspora.

The principal reportedly took the stance, raising concerns of hygiene, adding that the locks could be a source of lice, which could spread to other students at the prominent Portmore, St Catherine-based school.

While the family are not Rastafarians, their attorney, Isat Buchanan, argued that the child “should be allowed to attend school in the way that her hair was adorned because it represented the family’s decision as to their expression and freedom, to choose how to wear their hair and not necessarily in keeping with any religious belief”, the judges noted.

In the 60-page judgment explaining their decision, they noted that the case was not about “Rastafarians being prevented from having their child attend a public institution because of dreadlocks worn out of religious observance”. Instead, the court said it was “wary of opening what may be considered the floodgates” of self-expression.

Reacting to the ruling, Buchanan said it was a “sad day ... for Rastafarians [and] dreadlocks-wearing black people in this country”.

It is a view shared by many in the diaspora that such a ruling could have been made in the land of celebrated dreadlocked reggae legend Bob Marley.

The ruling caused Carl Lee, a Jamaican Rastafarian who has lived in the United States for decades, to reflect on the many cases of abuse he and other brethren faced in the infancy of the Rastafarian movement while living in a commune in Jamaica.

“This is amazing that in this modern time the state could not have decisively said children [wearing dreadlocks] must be given a right to an education like any other human being. It looks bad on Jamaica,” he said. “It cannot be that it is what is on a child’s head and not what is in it is the subject up for a legal matter.”

Former national footballer Richard Strachan, who now lives in South Florida, is incensed that dreadlocked hair could bar a child’s access to a state school in these times.

Strachan, who is better known for his powerhouse shots in the Manning Cup for St George’s College, has had acquaintances with Rastas from his days in high school in the 1970s through early 1980s.

He has memories of Clinton Murray, who wore dreadlocks and also represented St George’s – a Catholic school – during his high-school years.

“He was the most disciplined and humble person who played the game very well. I saw nothing wrong with him. It never occurred to us as youth that he was different. Murray was just a youth whose hair was not trimmed,” he said. “Why are we talking about this in Jamaica in 2020? ... These decisions from the courts hurt our image and we need a new dispensation.”

karyl.walker@gleanerjm.com