Black Japanese student segregated during his graduation ceremony for wearing cornrows
A high school in Japan became the center of online scrutiny after a biracial student was segregated from his classmates during their graduation ceremony in February for wearing cornrows.
The Black and Japanese 18-year-old, who was not named in the local reports, reportedly sought advice from his New York-based African American father on how to style his curly hair for the special event because he wanted a “neat” look that day.
However, the teen ended up getting reprimanded for his cornrows by the unnamed school in Himeji City in Hyogo prefecture, which deemed the hairstyle prohibited.
He was reportedly forced to wait in the student guidance room for about an hour before he was asked to go to the second floor where there were no other students as the ceremony was about to begin.
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The student was also told by his teachers to not respond when his name was called during the ceremony on February 27.
According to the Prefectural Board of Education, the school had instructed the student to get a haircut before the ceremony because his long hair violated the school's rule that it should be "clean like a high school student."
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The student, who was born in China and is a dual citizen of Japan and the United States, decided to go home in the middle of the ceremony, before his name was called.
He later told Mainichi Shimbun in an interview: “This hairstyle is part of my father’s roots and is my culture as a Black man.”
The student’s father also explained that the hairstyle is clean and consistent with their own hair and is also popular among black children and women in the U.S. In a statement with the news platform, the father expressed disappointment over the school’s move.
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"Braiding is a way for Black people to arrange their hair, the same way that Japanese people part their hair. It’s discriminatory to assume that a hairstyle with roots is a violation without any reason," he said.
The incident ignited discussions online on how schools implement their strict “burakku kousoku” rules and how they affect the racial minorities who make up just 2% of the country's mostly ethnic Japanese population.
Among those who criticized the school’s actions against the student was politician Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, noting that the country must improve on how it views diversity.
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かつての米国の人種隔離政策separate but eaqual （分離すれども平等）のような対応にびっくり。ええやんか、髪型なんかいちいち目くじら立てんでも。卒業式なんやし。多様性に対する受容度を教育現場でも高めていかないと。
黒人ルーツの髪形「校則違反」 卒業式で席隔離 https://t.co/5MJdcnQjwh
— 玉木雄一郎（国民民主党代表） (@tamakiyuichiro) March 28, 2023
“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,” Tamaki wrote in a tweet.
In response to the backlash, the school’s vice principal justified the school’s action by saying: "I am not denying traditional hairstyles, but I have been teaching according to hair type, and it does not mean that students could not attend graduation ceremonies because they were allowed to attend at different locations."
Japanese schools have made headlines in the past for implementing very strict rules for their students.
In 2017, an 18-year-old Japanese woman won a lawsuit against the Osaka prefecture government after a school forced her to dye her naturally brown hair black. A private high school also faced backlash in 2019 after students were forced to kneel and bow to their teacher during an assembly.