In defence of the ‘no dreadlocks’ school
Not so long ago, if a child’s hairstyle fell foul of his or her school’s uniform policy, the parents would swiftly take the child to the hairdressers to have it rectified. Sadly, those days have gone. Fulham Boys School in west London has threatened to suspend a 12-year-old pupil unless he removes his dreadlocks – which clearly contravene the Church of England school’s uniform policy. Simple, you might think. But in these PC times, when the personal and the political have become so entwined, this reasonable request appears to have fallen on culturally sensitive ears.
Tuesday Flanders, a Rastafarian and the mother of Chikayzea, the child at the centre of the row, is prepared to put up a fight. ‘They can’t expect me to cut my son’s hair’, she declared. According to the Daily Mail, Flanders vowed to fight the school, claiming dreadlocks are ‘our faith, it’s our religion, our culture’, adding that the school had no right to dictate what hairstyle her son should have. ‘It can never be right. It’s a human right’, she said. Flanders appeared on ITV’s This Morning. Visibly upset and close to tears, she recounted her conversation with the school’s headmaster: ‘I went to this gentleman and I pleaded with him to accept it.’ An outraged Eamonn Holmes, co-presenter of the show, addressed the camera and said: ‘Headmaster, sort this. This can be sorted.’
To his credit, the headmaster, Alun Ebenezer, called the show to respond to Flanders’ concerns, saying: ‘We do have a strict uniform policy which we make clear on our website and prospectus, at open days and evenings.’ In fact, the school’s uniform and appearance policy clearly states: ‘No extreme or “cult” haircuts including sculpting, shaving, dreadlocks or braiding are allowed.’
To accuse the school of ‘racism’, or ‘religious discrimination’, is unfair. Moreover, claiming that the school is discriminating against Rastafarian culture is highly debatable. The Rastafarian author Barbara Blake Hannah argues that Rastafarians are essentially Christian – they read and quote from the Bible. And what does the custom of wearing dreadlocks have to do with Biblical tradition? Absolutely nothing, according to the Grenadian humanist Seon M Lewis, author of From Mythology to Reality: Moving Beyond Rastafari.
Flanders’ campaign against the school demands that her personal preferences be prioritised over school regulations. But schools need rules. Yes, they may sometimes feel like an unnecessary burden. But following school rules is a sign of respect, and uniform rules help to minimise classroom distractions. Chikayzea has been humiliated enough. He needs to cut off his dreadlocks and return to school for the sake of his education. He can always grow them again. And the school should stick to its guns, for the sake of the authority of schools everywhere.
Courtney Hamilton is a writer. He is speaking at the Battle of Ideas session ‘The legacy of Martin Luther King: from civil rights to identity politics’ on Saturday 28 October. Follow him on Twitter: @MrCDHamilton