Splitting Hairs

By Raffique Shah
July 10, 2023

Raffique ShahIt did not surprise me when last week senior officials at the Ministry of Education, in teachers’ and parents’ organisations, as well as the best entertainers we have learnt to accept because they are plentiful, colorful and cheap-man on the street—were chiming away on an issue I had no idea existed, far less worthy of comment. But the controversy that erupted when Trinity College at Moka Invoked their rule on specific hairstyles students, graduating students especially, were not allowed to sport at the graduation ceremony, was the proverbial— storm in a calabash. Lawyers, other professionals, anyone connected with education or, inevitably, politics blew the issue wholly out of proportion.

While I agree that schools must be governed by rules pertaining to deportment, even those who were loudest in their criticisms of the college and its board would admit that if left unchecked, some parents and children will attend classes looking and smelling like vagrants, making life uncomfortable for those who abide by acceptable standards. Be that as it may, I have a personal concern over lowering standards of hygiene and health that seem to be growing in proportion. True, the Covid crisis left us in a mess: many people lost their jobs. Covid triggered other medical condition that all but pauperized large segments of the population. In turn, the precipitous fall in incomes literally placed many households in positions where they could not afford even food, far less hygienic supplies. When you live in middle-to-upper class residential areas, you may well be insulated from this plunge in household incomes. I happen to live in a ‘poor-ras’ community in which most members are at the lower end, many more in the middle, and precious few in the upper level who can be classified as being wealthy.

Hundreds of people barely afford more than one decent meal a day, although, rest assured that some will set aside money for their favourite beverage, fancy clothing etc. School children have to wrestle with adults for seats in route maxi-taxis. In their pockets, almost no monies beyond their fares, and their only uniform, the one they wear everyday. While such people know what hygiene is, many a morning families wrestle for the last bar of toilet soap from their cupboards and their basic medication being the cheapest generic drugs they got from the public health centers. Pauperized in many instances by factors they do not and will never control, they have their pride and would solicit some food from you only if they are desperate.

What I’ve encountered within the last two years, being driven from as far as Westmoorings in the north to La Romaine in the south, many people hustling produce at traffic lights and worse than that, women accompanied by children, in some instances babies, standing at the side of busy roads and high-end establishments with signs asking for assistance to feed their broods. That tugs at my heart. I help where I can, my family similarly, although we too are struggling with falling living standards. I can go on and on describing what I hope is a diminishing landscape of people pleading for help. But I live in hope that I will live to see my country rebound from some death-dealing economic blows that almost coincided with Covid.

Coming back to my original topic, this controversy over hairstyles, those who have taken up arms and are preparing to fight wars over who should wear what hairstyle, I hope they see that the real problems facing schools and the thousands of children we have to educate, is not hair or hairstyle-deep. Proper hygiene is far more important, even critical in these troubles times. A cursory look at numbers of children missing classes because they cannot afford to clean themselves properly and in instances where they can, they do not have the maxi fare or meal.

I trust those who see in the hair-battle an avenue for promoting race consciousness, dip into their deep wallets to help solve problem number one— hunger and poverty. Hell, man, I was there with you in 1970 when Sister Angela Davis sported the biggest ‘Fro’ around her pretty face to send her message to the world, especially to African people who wore Afro hairstyles but did not give a damn about the suffering people in Africa, the continent, or even Afros here at home— much like those who cross their arms over their chest and shout ‘Wakanda Forever’ whilst not being able to name all the countries that make up the African continent far less the issues currently affecting them.

To the overlords at Trinity, my Afro brothers who have made it big and my Indian brethren who have amassed wealth, hopefully by fair means and business acumen, stop this senseless fighting over non-issues. Fighting over hairstyles is really splitting hairs. Hear! Here!