Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wuh really gine on 'bout hair?
I listened in amazement this morning to a news report in which it was stated that the tertiary level institution the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJPP) had enforced a ban on students wearing their hair dreadlocked unless they were Rastafarian. Apparently the ban barred five young men from completing their two-year programme at the institution.
I thought I had misunderstood the news item and scrambled to read the details in the newspaper. According to the DAILY NATION, deputy principal of the SJPP, Merton Forde, confirmed the ban and said if the students were willing to show they belonged to the Rastafarian sector, they would not be barred from any classes.
"We have regulations concerning the type of headdress considered to be unhealthy to students around them. We expect students to conform to those regulations. The students were told that their dreadlocks would not have been a problem once they are part of the Rastafarian faith," Forde said.
One of the affected students, Carlos Adams, 22, of the Electrical Department, said that since last Wednesday, there were a series of meetings about how he and four other males should wear their hair. They are in the Electrical Engineering, Micro-Electronics and Refrigeration and Engineering departments.
When they returned to class last Friday, personnel from Student Affairs asked for letters stating their dreadlocks were religion-related. Failing that, they would have to cut their hair in order to attend classes.
Adams said: "The only way we are allowed into our class is with a letter from the Rastafarian organisations [but] the organisation said they cannot issue letters to people with long hair. You are a brethren because of your heart.
"I think it is some sort of prejudice. Why should I bring in a letter saying that I am some part of a movement . . . . We are not little kids going to school up here. We are not seeking to change the rules in the institution. We just want to go to class."
Damien Weekes, 24, also of the Electrical Department said security personnel refused to let him enter the institution last Friday with his hairstyle.
In the past, Weekes unlocked his hair and wore his hair in an afro style because personnel felt the students could conceal weapons under the tams (headdress) worn over the dreadlocked hair.
Adams and Weekes said when they attended the interview and orientation sessions, they were told that dreadlocked hair was not a problem, as long as it was well groomed and pulled backwards.
The students are in the final semester of their first year of their two-year programmes. They are missing the core subject, electrical installation,
and if they don't successfully complete this, they say they cannot go on
to pursue studies for their City Guild certificate."
Let me say first of all that I think I understand why the SJPP feels it has to enforce this ban. Whether we choose to admit it or not, there's a sub-culture in Barbados that has a propensity for lawlessness and it would appear as though many of the proponents of this behaviour wear dreadlocked/plaited/twisted hair. By that same token I know many men and women who wear that hairstyle who are not lawless, myself included.
But as human beings we love to categorise and lump everyone in to the same box, so if it so happens that more than half of the young men who appear before the Courts have plaited hair, every young man in Barbados with plaited hair is a criminal.
But what really makes me wonder if the SJPP sought legal advice on this matter is this....how on God's green earth can you provide documentation to prove that you are a Rastafarian? Who in Barbados can you get to authenticate such a thing? Dr. Ikael Tafari of the Pan African Commission? Or do you have to write to Haile Selassie? Is there is a world body of Rastafarians who give out certificates? Do you have to sit an exam to prove that you are a true true Rasta? And what does the SJPP mean when it talks about headdress that is "unhealthy"?
And another thing, the story didn't say whether women were affected by this ban. Hundreds of women in Barbados right now wear their hair in some type of natural style and many of them aren't Rastafarian. Are they being barred from classes too or are only males being targetted? So many instances of discrimination are evident here that I wonder if the SJPP has really thought this through.
I sympathise with them because I'm also concerned about the path many of our young men and women are taking into lives of crime and drugs, but to target those with natural hairstyles is a knee-jerk response. Why should these young men be barred from finishing their studies and leading productive lives because they made a hairstyle choice? The news story alluded to persons with dreadlocs hiding weapons under their tams...Muslim students also wear a headdress. I say nothing more.
Photo: Carlos Adams (foreground) and Damien Weekes, students of the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, have been called upon to change their hairstyles. (Pictures by Charles Grant - www.nationnews.com)