Two years ago, an 11-year-old boy arrived for his first day of school at St. Gregory’s Catholic Science College in London. The school’s dress code called for all boys to wear their hair with “short back and sides” in an effort to curb “gang culture”. The boy showed up with his hair in cornrows, and was promptly turned away. Now he’s had his day in court.
The now 13-year-old has worn cornrows since he was born. All of the men in his family also wear cornrows — it’s part of their family tradition. This is something he is (and should be) proud of:
“I really like my hair and it’s been that way all my life. This problem at school was the first time me and my mum ever talked about my hair, it’s so normal to us … I really like my hair, my brother and dad have cornrows and we all like it. I really don’t want to cut it off. This was the first time I had to ask the question, ‘what’s wrong with my hair?'”
This all begs the question: did St. Gregory’s act in a racist manner? The judge who presided over the case said yes, sort of. He ruled that the policy resulted in “indirect racial discrimination”, since it did not take into account the cultural traditions of some of its students. He found the policy itself to be “perfectly permissible”, though unlawful when “applied without the possibility of exception”. The school also does not allow shaved heads and other “skinhead styles”.
Unlike the French burka ban, this has nothing to do with religion. The boy’s lawyer Angela Jackman sums it up quite nicely: “This is an important decision. It makes clear that non-religious cultural and family practices associated with a particular race fall within the protection of equalities legislation.”
St. Gregory’s is debating whether or not they will appeal the judge’s decision. It’s important to note that this case only dealt with the legality of the policy, not the legality of the boy’s dismissal from school. That issue is being fought in a separate county court case. In the mean time, we think this little boy is an excellent “I Love My Hair” role model.