Aummm…in this era of the black hair revolution and empowerment why do most Jamaican high schools still have bumboclaat rules in their student handbook barring black girls from wearing sister locs, bantu knots, twists outs, afros and other forms of natural hairstyles??
To quote from the rulebook of one traditional high school in Jamaica, “Hairstyles should be simple and neat…Sister locs should not be acquired doing tenure at the school.” I need not mention the name of the bumboclaat school as a form of shaming because most if not all traditional high schools in Jamaica have these discriminatory rules. I don’t understand how these rules still exist in a country where 90 -95 percent of the population is of African descent and has “nappy hair” which is more amenable to the abovementioned styles. Furthermore, I am baffled by the fact that the education system – which is supposed to enlighten the younger generation, can uphold these racist rules!
You might be wondering why I am bringing this issue to the fore now, when these rules have been part of our high school culture for centuries. Well, other than the fact that I, a woman of African descent was affected by these rules during my tenure at a traditional high school, it is crazy that my little sister, who is 13 years younger than I, is currently facing the same issue at another traditional high school. It was I who took it upon myself and used my hard-earned money to purchase some very expensive natural hair products as my way of empowering her to take pride in her African roots. Turns out she didn’t need much convincing has she had been watching other girls at school experiment with these hairstyles and really liked what she was seeing. She already knew that she wanted finger coils and twist outs and couldn’t wait for her curls to be fully defined. She only mentioned one problem: one bumboclaat teacher at the school who was telling black girls that natural hairstyles made them unkempt and walked around with rubber bands that she gave to girls who wore twist outs, commanding them to use the rubber band to “tame” their hair. I was also bothered by the fact that my little sister didn’t see the act as racist or discriminatory and only laughed at the teacher, describing her as being “not easy.
How can this be??!! These rules need to be recognized as racist and abolished immediately.
For one, so many of us Jamaican women will recall that the children of Indian and Caucasian descent were allowed to wear their out during high school. And why should they be forced to do twist outs or have their hair in plaits when free-flowing hair is normal for people of those races? You will also recall that even Indian and Caucasian boys were allowed to grow their hair beyond the normal length while boys of the Rastafari faith were told to hide their locs under a bumboclaat tam. These rules have no place in a society that is struggling to recover from the damage of slavery and colonialism. You know what is true, we as black Jamaicans see ourselves the same way the colonizers see us. The same way they talked about and forced us to de-kink our hair so we would look more lady-like and refined, is the same thing we expect of these young black girls who are regaining their identity by going back to their roots. As a country that is predominantly black, we should be owning our identity instead of telling girls that they will be thrown in detention, suspended, prevented from graduating or have their parents called in for wearing natural hairstyles. Yes! These are the sentences that the rulebook I mentioned above handed down for those who wear black hair like they don’t care. How can school tell children that they will be punished for being who they truly are? Am I the only one who is seeing how ridiculous this is?
Another irony in the rulebook that I used as an example above is that just before they outline the racist rule against black hairstyles, they put in bold: Bleaching of the skin and face are not allowed. Now we can all outline the many historical and psychological reasons why we agree with this rule, but to think that black hairstyles are viewed as wrong as the bleaching of the skin is mind-boggling to me. Don’t you see mixed messages that we are sending our children, particularly our girls? I have never heard of a school suspending a student for getting a bumboclaat perm, something which inflicts pain (I know because I have processed hair) and has the potential to damage good, strong black hair. Yet we have rules that further erase the confidence of young black girls by telling them that they should be punished for wearing their hair in its natural state.
Jamaican parents, we need to take a bumboclaat stand against these racist rules in our schools and demand the Ministries of Education, Youth and Culture to ask schools to do away with them. Think about it, the same society which tells them that their nappy, black hair isn’t beautiful is the same society that calls them sick and uneducated when they bleach their black skin to get more attention and acceptance. But we are part of the problem!!
Jamaica should be taking leaves out of the books of US states like New York and California. Earlier this year, these two states passed laws that make it a crime to discriminate against black people who wear natural hairstyles. According to the New York Times, the guidelines were issued by the New York Commission on Human rights and:
“specifically mention the right of New Yorkers to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” (Excerpt taken from New York Times article titled New York To Ban Discrimination Based On Hair)
That article further went on to state:
“In practice, the guidelines give legal recourse to individuals who have been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted or fired because of the texture or style of their hair. The city commission can levy penalties up to $250,000 on defendants that are found in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. The commission can also force internal policy changes and rehirings at offending institutions.”
It’s time for us to face our true selves Jamaica. We ought not to use laws and rules to make black children a minority in this country. We are predominantly black. And our bumboclaat hair does matter.