Kambon wants school hair code reviewed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Director of the Caribbean Freedom Project Shabaka Kambon – File photo

THE Caribbean Freedom Project (CFP) wants a review of the recently implemented hair code for schools, which it says has not prevented students with Afro-textured hair from facing discrimination.

CFP director Shabaka Kambon argued, “Trinidad and Tobago’s hair code will have to be revisited and upgraded within a more inclusive process. A dereliction of this duty will not just result in more children with Afro-textured hair being harmed, it will also undermine the ongoing national reckoning with our racist colonial past, in which we must triumph in order to live up to our stated ideals of equality.”

He referred to a situation in January, when two female students of St Charles High School in Tunapuna were suspended for wearing braided hairstyles.

The district supervisor intervened and they returned to school, but Kambon said the matter has not been fully resolved.

“This is not an isolated incident.” He said things have improved since the Trinity College, Moka graduation at which 23 boys were stopped from receiving certificates with their classmates, because their hairstyles were deemed in breach of school rules.

But “The CFP and the Emancipation Support Committee (ESCTT) have received several complaints from parents, teachers and students since September.”

He charged,”In one particularly disgraceful incident, a teacher at a prestige school resorted to obscene language and called a student a ‘thug’ for refusing to change an Afro-textured hairstyle that should have been protected under the new code.

“The persistence of allegations like this necessitate that we reflect on the new code beyond its enlightened provisions to protect natural Afro-textured hair and associated hairstyles such as locks, twists, plaits, and cornrows to find out why it has not had the desired impact.”

Referring to a news release announcing the code last July, Kambon said it identified as its main rationale: “keeping pace with accepted changes in societal norms, values and beliefs.

“This rationale works to trivialise the issue and divorce it from its substantive context. It sows confusion among students and ambivalence among administrators, who both need a clearer understanding of the issue to ground their actions going forward.”

Kambon said the Ministry of Education got it wrong.

“Broad guidelines are no match for the transnational, false and fundamentally racist belief that Afro-textured hair and associated hairstyles are inherently messy, unkempt, unhygienic, disruptive, and unsuitable for formal settings.

“The insidious nature of this deeply ingrained idea, encapsulated in the popular phrase ‘bad hair,’ is rooted in white supremacy from the colonial era, when Europeans assigned human worth and social status using themselves as the somatic ideal.”

He referred to the writing of Scots doctor Vincent Tothill, quoting him as saying “Most women (in TT) who have crinkly hair will spend all they possess to get it straightened out at a beauty parlour in Port of Spain.”

Kambon commented, “He concluded that the bias against Afro-textured hair was so profound that it was ‘the real social bar’ – more of an obstacle to social mobility than skin colour, also in the spotlight now after a study published in the European Research Journal (2024) found that skin-bleaching was on the rise in TT, fuelled by the idea that a lighter complexion signifies higher social status and enhanced social mobility.”

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly told the Newsday she has received no reports of discrimination since the code came into effect.

“I have (seen) and continue to see many schools with previous restrictions relax those. Therefore I cannot comment on the CFP’s information, nor their call for revision. The matter has not arisen.”

She said if such reports come to her attention, “They will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as required.”