PM’s Wife speaks Out!

Rose-marie Belle Antoine weighs in on the day’s hot topic.

Rose-marie Belle Antoine weighs in on the day’s hot topic.

Besides outspoken sex worker Ecstacy’s story on last week’s Untold Stories, the most trending topic on Facebook centered on the mother who defied the rules of Saint Mary’s College and insisted her son be allowed to attend class with his plaited hair uncovered. The hairy story also dominated the talk-shows, a fact that must’ve been a great relief for local politicians.

No surprise that not a single related statement has come from the government. Not even from the education ministry. The young student at the center of the controversy sat at a table outside his classroom for all of three weeks.

On Facebook group SLAPS (Saint Lucians Aiming for progress), Rose-marie Belle Antoine—wife of Saint Lucia’s prime minister—offered her two-cents worth on the topic. “Coming late to this debate, and I still don’t know all of the details,” wrote the law professor, “but discrimination can take many forms, including indirect discrimination.”

She went on: “I believe in rules and order, but we must think carefully to ensure that our rules do not disadvantage certain groups. The questions of forms of dress and hairstyles fall easily into this and raise the sub-issue of secondary characteristics that can point to discrimination.

“There is nothing wrong with requiring students to have neat hair, but if our notion of neatness impacts on the identity and culture of only certain races, intentionally or not, then this can amount to indirect discrimination.”

She added: “If our idea of neat hair means, no dreadlocks or squiggly hairstyles  . . . which race of people have those? This may be a form of indirect discrimination based on race.”

Unlike others who had taken sides based obviously on emotion, the law professor cited examples of discrimination, however subtle“In multi-racial societies with an Asian minority, if we advertise for job applicants who must be over five-feet-ten tall, we right away exclude most Asians and may open ourselves up to claims of indirect discrimination.”

She tells of a Muslim student at a convent in Trinidad who, several years ago, had been prevented from wearing her hijab (headdress) to school. The case went to court and though not addressed on constitutional grounds of religious discrimination, for technical reasons, the student won the case on the basis that it was an unreasonable decision based on irrelevant considerations. “These questions do call for balance and reflection,”  Antoine concluded.

Bibiana Williams, the mother of the boy in the hair controversy, told the STAR this week that she is seeking the right lawyer to take on her case against
the school. This, even though on Monday she had settled the matter via a compromise.

In a letter handed to the school principal Monday morning Williams wrote: “After a very long discussion with my son and other relevant parties, we have
come to an interim decision to cover my son’s hair, to allow him to continue classes.”

She said further: “It is a move that I intend to monitor closely since I am not aware of what effects the continuous covering of his hair could have on his rule is abolished, as it is tantamount to nothng but discrimination.

“There is absolutely no evidence that uncovered, plaited hair results in chaos as was stipulated by the principal. Boys attending school with braided hair is a fairly new phenomenon yet the breakdown in school discipline has been going on for far longer. So let us find the true cause of this chaos.”

On Thursday a story appeared on dealing with the matter of an African-American child’s hair and her right to be at school.
(See story on page 13)


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