Pearsall's Books

This blog is defunct! Check out my new music blog at

Monday, March 21, 2005

That's Not Your Hairstyle!

Yesterday my mother sent me a remarkable story from The Guardian. Basically, to sum it up, Olivia Acton, a (white) 13 year-old student at Middleton Technology College, Rochdale, got her hair braided when she was on vacation in the Canary Islands. Unremarkable, so far. Then, she returned to school and was told to go home and not return until she had removed them. The wrinkle in this story is that the school allows two black students to have their hair in...braids. When pressed about this the school's headteacher, Alison Crompton, said, "We don't allow any extreme hairstyles at the school. We are a high-achieving school with high standards. We don't allow any street culture into school. If we didn't allow some leeway for their cultural and ethnic background I think it would probably be discriminatory."

I dunno, maybe it's me, but if I'd imagine that the parents of the black girls don't appreciate their daughters' hairstyles being considered 'extreme' and 'street'. Speaking personally, I am not a fan of white people having cornrows, braids, or dreadlocks, or black people dying their hair blonde, not because I think it is some kind of 'cultural appropriation', but because I think it looks pretty silly. But that's a personal aesthetics call, nothing more. How is it the headteacher's business to be a vigilante patrolling the boundaries of 'culture', to tell people how they should or should not dress or style their hair? There are bigger issues at hand.

More particularly, this ties back to a point that I made in my December essay on multiculturalism, that ideological multiculturalism, in its desire to 'celebrate diversity' by calcifying difference, is explicitly anti-individual and weirdly coterminous to nationalisms of all forms that insist there is an 'authentic' way to be a member of any group. Perhaps I am hopelessly libertarian, but I don't think it is anyone but the individual's responsibility and choice as to how they approach the world, especially on benign matters like hairstyles, clothes, music choice, reading matter, and so on. Everyone should have the right to approach the world in whatever way they choose, as long as that doesn't impinge on others' freedoms. If that means white suburban teens dressing in baggy clothes and talking like they're from Brownsville, then that's fine, it's their choice. The ideological multiculturalism that says that there are boundaries beyond which the European/European-descendant cannot pass because of fears of 'appropriation' implicitly implies that all members of other groups cannot behave, dress, or think in ways that might be considered, by some arbitrary standard, 'not of their culture'. Which is, of course, a direct attack on personal liberty.

Update, 21/3/2005, 6:43pm: Having posted this, I decided to reactivate this thread on Dissensus. Worth a look.

|| RPH || 6:33 PM || |