Black Student Separated During Graduation Because of His Cornrows

The 18-year-old wanted to commemorate his graduation from high school by wearing cornrows. However, he was told to stay quiet and separate from fellow students.

According to local news reports, a Black Japanese teenager from Japan was separated from his peers during his graduation ceremony because his hair was in cornrows.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the unnamed 18-year-old with curly black hair chose to braid his hair for his high school graduation ceremony. So, he asked his father, who is black, and from New York, currently researching in Japan.

But the public school he attended claimed that his cornrows violated guidelines. The administrators forced him to be placed on the 2nd floor, isolated from his peers. Teachers also told him that he was not allowed to answer his name when mentioned.

The story has provoked an argument about Japan’s notoriously strict school regulations called burakku kousoku as well as discriminatory practices against minorities of different races in a country that has a majority of 98 percent ethnic Japanese people.

“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 event,” Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the party that is in opposition, the Democratic Party for the People, tweeted. Tamaki added that Japan must be more adept at embracing diversity in education.

In an interview conducted in the Mainichi The Shimbun, the student’s father declared: “Braiding is a way to allow Black people to style their hair like how Japanese people cut it. It’s discriminatory to conclude that having a hairstyle that is rooted is in violation, without justification.”

Schools in Japan are constantly at the forefront of having strict school rules for their students. In addition to the numerous restrictions in place, some schools require checking skirt and sock lengths, the color of underwear, and the shape of eyebrows.

Hair is also heavily controlled, and some schools require photographic evidence that the student’s locks aren’t naturally black and straight. One school even went as they altered the student’s photos from her yearbook to make her brown hair appear darker.

Asao Naito, who studied burakku kousoku and is an associate professor at Meiji University, stated that he wasn’t surprised by such acts from Japanese Schools. They place greater importance on the image of the school overall than an individual student’s identity, Naito said. To achieve this, schools enforce strict rules in ways that appear to be totally absurd in the eyes of society’s standards.

School rules that are strict in Japan go back to around the 1870s, at a minimum, when the central government began to regulate educational institutions. Attention to these rules grew in the 1970s and 1980s as more students protested over Burakku Kousoku. Education officials were also enacting stricter regulations to curb bullying and violence in schools at this time.

Today, some institutions are taking away the restrictive rules. In southern Japan, Fukuoka City plans to eliminate any school rule considered excessive, such as the ban on ponytails by the beginning of the new school year, in all the city’s junior highs. The schools also provide gender-neutral uniforms to honor pupils and their gender identities.

This specific school in question mentions their rule for the hairstyle as “clean and appropriate for high school students, without being influenced by fashion trends.” Boys should ensure their hair isn’t covering their ears, eyes, or the collars of their shirts. While bleaching, dyeing, and drying hair are not permitted, Braiding isn’t explicitly stipulated.

When asked why the student was not allowed to take part in his graduation, the school said the hairstyle was not allowed, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t attend; he had to choose a different location.

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