Come January, Jamaica’s highest court will hear the case of “Z,” a little girl with dreadlocks who was told she couldn’t attend a prestigious public school unless her hair was cut.
Z’s mother, Sherine Virgo, wasn’t having it.
As the Washington Post reports, Virgo refused to cut her daughter’s hair, telling the paper that the principal of Kensington Primary School tried to explain the no-dreadlocks policy by saying it was to avoid lice and maintain hygiene.
So began a legal battle between Virgo, supported by the human rights group, Jamaicans for Justice, and the school. Thanks to a court injunction earlier in August, Z will be attending the school this month. But the case has constitutional implications: Should Z win, schools across the country could be barred from imposing anti-dread or anti-natural hair restrictions on kids.
From the Post:
The human rights group is challenging the school’s prohibition on dreadlocks by arguing that it violates the child’s constitutional rights—including the right to an education, freedom of speech and freedom from official discrimination.
Nor is it an issue that’s just affected female students.
In 2016, a 3-year-old Jamaican boy was expelled from school after his mother, Donna Amritt, refused to cut his hair.
“This is more than a gender-related issue, it is a racial issue,” said Amritt, adding that white children with long hair faced no similar requirement.
Though dreadlocks—specifically Rastafarian dreads—have long been associated with Jamaica’s most famous citizen, Bob Marley, Rastafarians as a group have been discriminated against for decades.
The Jamaican government recently acknowledged this treatment, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness giving a formal apology this year for a 1963 confrontation between police and Rastafarians in Montego Bay. In that incident, 10 people were killed and hundreds of Rastafarians were jailed—in some cases, officials forcibly shaved the Rastafarians’ heads, writes the Post.
Some Jamaicans hope that should the Supreme Court rule in Z’s case, it could help reverse some of the stigma and the discriminatory treatment of Rastafarians.
Virgo and her daughter aren’t Rastafarians but—as with many black people around the world who loc their hair—the hairstyle is an expression of their cultural identity.
As Virgo told the Post, “It is our natural hair, it is our nation’s culture and it is what God has blessed us with.”