A school that said a student couldn’t attend classes if she didn’t cut her dreadlocks did not infringe on the child’s constitutional rights, the Supreme Court of Jamaica ruled Friday.
The issue began in July 2018 when Kensington Primary School asked the mother of a 5-year-old – identified as ZV since she’s a minor – to cut the child’s hair or her acceptance into the school would be withdrawn.
The mother refused to cut the hair. An injunction was issued that allowed the girl to attend school with dreadlocks until the ruling came out.
The school had an unwritten policy of “no braids, no beads, no locking of hair” because parents do not wash their children’s dreadlocked hair which leads to lice and “[encourages] insanitary conditions,” according to the court judgment obtained by CNN.
“The objective of creating a more controlled hygienic environment is important to the proper order and effective learning at the school and does not prevent the claimant from enjoying religious freedom, and the expression of that religious choice and cultural ethnicity to which her parents subscribe in their household,” the ruling said.
CNN could not reach Kensington Primary School for comment.
“After two years of fighting, nothing has changed,” Sherine Virgo, the child’s mother, told CNN. “This is no longer about my child and our family. We are fighting for all dreadlocked Jamaicans. We are fighting for change. We are fighting to reverse years of colonialism and we will not give up.”
The family plans to appeal the ruling and will take their case all way to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom if necessary, Virgo added.
Centuries of Black hair discrimination
With just one month left before students in Jamaica are set to return to school following a shutdown in March because of the coronavirus, Virgo said she has yet to decide where to place her child, who is now 7 years old.
But what isn’t up for debate is what she will do with her daughter’s hair.
“We will not be cutting her locks. We will not erase her identity or our family’s identity,” Virgo said.
Across the world, hair discrimination against Black people who wear natural and traditional hairstyles like Afros and dreadlocks has been going on for centuries.
In the US, for example, cases of hair discrimination include a varsity wrestler who was pressured into cutting his dreadlocks and a high school senior who couldn’t walk at graduation unless he cut his dreads.
But in Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae legend Bob Marley and home to many Rastafarians who consider dreadlocks a part of their religious tradition, this ruling comes as a shock to many.
The term “dreadlock” comes from Rastafarian culture, which is widely credited with popularizing the look in Western culture. Rastafarians consider the locks a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from what they call Babylon, a historically white-European imperialist structure that has oppressed blacks and other people of color since way back when, according to Migrations in History.
For the Virgo family, all who wear dreadlocks, the hairstyle is an important symbol of their identity as Jamaicans, even if they do not identify as Rastafarian.
“Racism in Jamaica exists just as it does in America,” Virgo said. “Most of us are Black, but if your skin tone is lighter, if you wear your hair straight, if you’re from a certain neighborhood, you’re considered more beautiful and get treated better. We can’t escape.”
Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.