A Black and Japanese student living in Japan had to sit alone at his graduation ceremony because his hairstyle violated rules.
As Vice reported, for this monumental moment, the anonymous 18-year-old wanted his hair to look “neat” and fresh since he has curly-textured hair, so he got cornrows after discussing the style with his father, a Black New York native.
When he arrived to celebrate his accomplishment with his classmates, the school staff told him he must sit in a different section than his peers and remain seated when his name was called due to his braids.
In Japan, most schools have stringent rules they do not compromise on, called burakku kousoku.
These rules cater to the majority of the country, which is 98.5% Japanese, and aren’t inclusive of the 1.5% of minorities who live there. These rules can create an environment that allows for discrimination against minorities from different cultural backgrounds, such as that experienced by the unnamed student who doesn’t have straight hair like the country’s native population.
“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,” Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, tweeted.
The teenager’s school is in Hyogo, a prefecture of Japan in the Kansai region of Honshu. And despite this story sparking conversations around school policies in Japan, the country has been practicing this for decades. School rules on physical appearance and clothing are familiar to Japan, as the government has enforced policies to help schools maintain a particular structure and image. Some authorities have even gone as far as dictating the color of students’ underwear, Vice reported.
Unhappy about what his son had to endure during a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the biracial teenager’s father shared his thoughts about how this makes the infrastructure of schools like a prison.
“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,” the dad told Japanese media outlet Mainichi Shimbun.
The teen told Vice World News he wasn’t trying to violate the school’s rule, but simply was embracing his heritage.
“This hairstyle is part of my father’s roots and is my culture as a Black man,” the unnamed teen said.