wrong type of hair
A High Court judge has ruled that a school that refused to admit a boy who had a cornrow hairstyle had implemented a policy that was indirectly an act of racial discrimination because the school did not allow any exceptions, even for a family’s cultural background.
As in many legal rulings, the words (over 10,000 of them in this case) have to be read very carefully. Mr Justice Collins did not say that it was unlawful to refuse admission to the boy; just that the policy was wrong. It is hard to understand how the judge has seen it as racial discrimination, direct or indirect. By making exceptions, the school would leave itself open to accusation of discrimination, but it applied its uniform policy, that included hairstyle, to all pupils irrespective of racial origin, skin colour, creed or culture.
And it is that nebulous word ‘culture’ that is at the heart of this dispute. It can take on a variety of meanings from an established and historic national or racial tradition to a newly created practice or belief. The boy’s mum said that his hairstyle was of great importance to his cultural and racial identity. Really ? Whereas the school sees a cornrow as a badge of a gang culture that it is anxious to exclude from the school to maintain a high standard of behaviour. It also bans white boys from having skinhead cuts. No objections there, interestingly.
So what’s the problem here ? The school has a right to have a uniform policy and apply it rigorously, making it known to current and prospective parents and pupils. Those who don’t like it can go to another school. But a policy should be sensible and pragmatic; it can still try to prevent gang cultures in the school without outlawing a particular hairstyle.
The boy and his parents should have been pragmatic too; adapt to the school rule; it’s only for a few years. Claiming a cultural reason for nonconformity opens the doors to all kinds of idiosyncratic clothing and adornments that would quickly ruin the ethos of the school and its behaviour strategy. And the judge, wearing his bright red robe and long (completely unnecessary) white wig should understand that uniforms can reflect a culture too. What exceptions to their uniform do High Court judges allow ?
To escalate this trivial matter to the High Court, and possibly to a further appeal, is where we go wrong. What a waste of court time. Not every argument should become a question of human rights to be judged by expert legal minds who feel obliged to rule between standpoints that are both valid but inherently subjective. Whether or not a haircut is appropriate in a school is a matter of opinion not law, and there is where it should remain.