Policing black bodies and contestation of black hair

Letters to the Editor

Policing black bodies and contestation of black hair

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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Dear Editor,

The effectiveness of colonialism is such that it has ensured that its successors are strategically placed in institutions that guarantee its continuity.

Jamaica may be celebrating her 58th year of Independence, but that a black child in a country where the population is 94 per cent of African descent is not allowed to wear her dreadlocked hair to school, speaks volumes of our continued mental enslavement and the little value we place on education when we place its importance beneath individual looks and appearance.

Why do schools police black girls' hair? Many schools still have rules about wearing braids or Afros. Why are black people in their natural state so hated, still? How is it that, in 2020, a country that has black liberation heroes such as Nanny of the Maroons and Marcus Garvey, attempts to demoralise, punish, and deny a child an education, which was already legally denied us under slavery? Don't we see the blatant contradiction and misplacement of values?

What messages are the Ministry of Education and the judiciary sending to black people? If you wear your hair in its natural state you do not deserve an education? Sounds just like the coloniser to me.

From our arrival in the erroneously called New World our bodies have been policed and contested — our blackness, our kinky hair, our broad noses, our full lips, our language, and our religion. Everything about black Jamaicans, descendants of Africans, has been denigrated and subordinated. No wonder black women spend money they do not have to buy weaves and extensions and bleach their skin. Blackness is just not acceptable in Jamaica.

I was deeply embarrassed when friends from as far away as Egypt contacted me to ask if this is really true and stated how deeply disappointed they were, based on their thinking that Jamaica was a place of liberation for black people. All of Jamaica should be up in arms that, after more than 400 years of colonial rule, a seven-year-old black Jamaican is not allowed to be herself. This is an indication of the deep and long-lasting humiliation that black Jamaicans have suffered and continue to face, and it is no wonder that inner-city and rural impoverished areas are only dotted with African people.

It is way past time to stop policing and contesting black bodies. The High Court ruling is in line with US President Donald Trump's racist actions against African Americans and other people of colour in the USA. This seven-year-old girl is all of us, and we need to be her village and protect her from racist, patriarchal, and colonial laws and values. Come on, Jamaica! Let us make sure that all Jamaicans are respected and allowed to be celebrated with their indigenous hair.

This ruling is handed down against all of us. We have now told all colonisers that we accept their imposed values about our beauty and worth, and have found ourselves unworthy. I am not a Rastafarian but have worn my hair naturally most of my life. Since the age of 16 I have vowed never to alter the condition of my hair and for the last 20 years have worn locks. That style represents my African ancestry and culture.

I applaud the Virgo family for standing their ground, and I want them to know they have my support. I want their daughter to continue to love her black hair, and, more importantly, I want her to know that her hair in its natural state is a reflection of her blackness; and it is beautiful and acceptable.

Long live the struggle to throw off the mantels of slavery. Long live freedom of cultural expression.

Professor Opal Palmer Adisa

University Director

Institute for Gender and Development Studies

UWI Regional Headquarters


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