Bleachers exiled

Stabroek News photo

Michael Nattoo – Staff Reporter

Recently, in a letter supposedly issued by administrators of the Irwin High School in St. James and addressed to parents/guardians, students who were found guilty of skin bleaching were being asked to stay at home – away from the classroom – until their “original complexion” returned. The PNPYO caught wind of the now highly publicized issue and, in a statement to the Western Mirror, are shunning the actions of the school administrators, claiming, among other things, that the letter infringes on the UN Convention’s Rights of the Child to education.

The letter supposedly issued by the Irwin High School administration

“As creative as the letter was, it was not the appropriate response and could in fact compound the problem, rather than solve it, by keeping children out of school,” the PNPYO declared. They continued: “Our concern stems from the fact that Jamaica is a signatory the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, wherein the right to education is guaranteed. The act of preventing students from attending school due to skin bleaching could open the door for parents to mount a challenge on the basis that it infringes on their right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of colour.”

The letter, which surfaced sometime around the week of the 16th to the 22nd, is quoted as saying: “We have observed the changes to the tone and complexion of the skin of your child/ward. These changes are more visible on his/her face when compared to the photograph that is on file. We are therefore asking for a medical report from a doctor concerning the condition, as we are not sure if it is contagious. If this is not forthcoming, we ask that the child/ward remains home until his/her original complexion has returned and when it would have been deemed safe for him/her to be integrated into the school population. Thank you for your cooperation.”

The PNPYO further shared with the Western Mirror that while they understood the need to curb the worrying trend, the approach could benefit from being more tactful on the part of the school administration. “We must endeavour to implement a more strategic response that allows for psychological reconciliation that has not happened post-independence.” To that end, in admitting that the education system could be the driver of the post-independence reconciliation for these troubled students, the youth organization made several suggestions they believe could positively impact the problem.


As part of what they believe to be a reparative, comprehensive and long term approach, the PNPYO suggests first formalizing Garveyism as part of the nation-wide school curriculum, and testing the framework through partnerships with the Liberty Hall and the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association). Additionally, “Partnering with community stakeholders and psychologists to set up clubs and societies in the most affected schools,” with a focus on self-esteem, racial pride and behaviour change and modification, the PNPYO believes, could further serve to dissuade the act of skin bleaching among students, and even adults. They lastly suggested the retooling of the guidance departments in these schools. “Equipping guidance counsellors with the intervention skills and resources to persuade the student and their families against the practice of skin bleaching,” they added, could also help.

“Shaming students is not the most efficient means of helping them. Let us retool them with the confidence they need to embrace their noble heritage in totality, without jeopardizing their prospects of success through education and training,” the PNPYO concluded.


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