Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Frocks for girls and other fallacies

Published:Thursday | September 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Do we really expect that, if we introduce a rule which one school has 'successfully' piloted to make female students wear uniforms that sweep the ground, they will somehow become chaste and recognise their body is the temple of Christ? I can't see the sense in this, except for the fact that we have decided to turn our secondary schools into convents, and so, frocks, I mean uniforms, 12 inches below the knee are now mandatory.

We are so silly for thinking this will have any kind of positive impact on students, girls especially. I loathe the ridiculousness that passes as sound policy measures and supposedly effective disciplinary practices in schools these days. Perhaps we should reinstitute corporal punishment since school administrators are so privileged to conceptualise ill-advised disciplinary measures that may even do damage to our children. I asked a teacher once why they are against fitted pants for boys and she quickly asserted that his pendulum becomes too obvious and, therefore, distracting.

Teachers seemingly spend an awful lot of time administering discipline for 'inappropriate' uniform, but the situation is not getting any better if the media reports are anything to go by. One would hope that school administrators spend equally as much or even more to ensure teachers teach and students learn.

Much of this seems to be related to ensuring students abstain from sexual activity. Girls wearing uniform 12 inches below their knees or boys wearing loosely fitted pants will have little to no impact on how adolescents understand and enjoy their sexuality. Do we realise that being fully clothed or not has no bearing on whether an adult male or female desires a student, or on students desiring their mates? And it certainly does not deter sexual activity. Do our educators realise that you don't need to see either to be libidinous? Do they know that we are aroused by a multiplicity of things? One can only hope that the vast majority of our educators understand how the body functions. It'd be worrying if they don't.


I'm also particularly perturbed by the fact that schools continue to think that the most appropriate action to take against a student who is bleaching is to send him/her home for a couple days. Apparently, the solution to bleaching is to keep students away from education. What are they going to go home to do? Recolour themselves with black polish or dye? The practice makes you wonder if these persons are qualified for their jobs. Do schools even have a policy on body modification? What would they do if a student reconstructs their nose and/or mouth or decides to lift their eyebrows or make buttocks or breasts bigger? Would they send them home as well?

It is crucial that our educators know that bleaching is a complex decision that a student makes. It's not always about the lack of pride in their black skin. Skin bleaching, in my humble opinion, is as much about opportunity as it is about lightening one's skin tone. Stop punishing children for finding creative ways to navigate a society that privileges people with a lighter skin tone. They are (often) merely trying to access economic opportunities just like those who are supposedly proud of their black skin and working hard to achieve success.

Until we address skin bleaching for what it really is in Jamaica, instead of demeaning men and women who choose to do so, we won't have any success. People will do whatever it takes to be accepted; to belong. It's like children at school trying to get into a popular group. They will steal, fight or whatever just so that s/he can be seen as worthy of membership. Listen to the interviews with people who bleach. It's not that they don't know it's harmful and that they should love their black skin.

Do we even know this is not a new issue and not limited to Jamaica? I visited Bangkok in Thailand twice and I was blown away by the vast number of skin-lightening products on the shelves in pharmacies and supermarkets.

Deans of discipline like Richard Troupe should pay attention to the system that perpetuates the colourism status quo which results in the marginalisation of people who are black. Let's castigate the systems that perpetuate the idea that brown is better. Being resigned in the self-hate thesis helps to absolve the system of what it has and is doing to people.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.