According to VICE Global News, an 18-year-old Black student in Japan who wore cornrows to his high school graduation ceremony was forced to sit apart from his peers because of his hairdo.
According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the teen, whose hair is dark and curly, chose to wear cornrows to his February graduation because it was a special occasion.
The boy reportedly discussed the hairdo with his father, who is originally from New York, since he wanted to attend the graduation with “neat hair.” Nevertheless, because his cornrows broke the school’s standards, administrators at his Hyogo-based school removed him from his classmates and sent him to a different section. He was also instructed not to answer when his name was called.
Japan’s school rules, known as burakku kousoku, are notorious for being tough, draconian, and strictly enforced. This recent event is said to have sparked a debate regarding the guidelines as well as the discrimination that ethnic minorities face. The ethnic population of the Asian nation is 98%.
“Braiding is a way for Black people to arrange their hair, the same way that Japanese people part their hair,” the teen’s father said. “It’s discriminatory to assume that a hairstyle with roots is a violation without any reason.”
Besides hairstyles, some Japanese schools also have rules surrounding skirt length, underwear color, and eyebrow shape for students. “I was surprised to see a response similar to the old U.S. racial segregation policy of ‘separate but equal.’ Why do you have to worry about the hairstyle? It’s a graduation ceremony,” leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, shared in a tweet. Tamaki also said Japan has to do more to embrace diversity in its schools.
Asao Naito, an associate professor of sociology who has studied burakku kousoku, told VICE World News that the school taking action against the boy because of his hairdo was not surprising. Naito also stated that a student’s individuality does not trump the general image of the country’s schools.
“They strictly enforce obedience in the form of hairstyles, skirt lengths, underwear colors, and so on, as an act of showing that the human being belongs entirely to the school and is a servant of the school,” he said.
In terms of hairstyles, the teen’s school requires that they be “clean and appropriate for high school pupils, without being affected by fashion trends.” Guys’ hair is also not permitted to conceal their eyes, ears, or shirt collars. According to VICE World News, the school also prohibits hair bleaching, colouring, and drying, but the rules are vague about braiding.
Reacting to its decision, the school said the teen’s hairstyle breached its guidelines. It further indicated that he was still permitted to attend the ceremony, but in a different seat.
“This hairstyle is part of my father’s roots and is my culture as a Black man,” the teen said about the incident.