Hairstyle Influences of R&B Stars

In June of this year, a judge in the United Kingdom ruled that a school’s ban on a young boy’s cornrows was “indirect racial discrimination.” The High Court ruled against St. Gregory’s Catholic Science College, a secondary school in North London, England.

In September 2009, the Boy, known as “G,” was refused entry on his first day for breaking the strict uniform policy. It is reported that the school was concerned that some hairstyles represented the gang culture in the area. The school, which is rated as excellent by the regulator Ofsted, allegedly prefers hairstyles with a short back and sides. It apparently also bans fully shaven hair, to avoid the skinhead look associated with right wing racist groups.







The court was reportedly told that cornrows were part of G’s family tradition and that he had not cut his hair since birth. The family’s attorney, Angela Jackman, from Maxwell Gillott, said: “…St Gregory’s Catholic Science College operates a policy which does not fully comply with current equalities legislation. We believe it discriminates against boys of African heritage by disregarding a widely recognized cultural practice.”

The case caused widespread debate with some saying that all pupils should have to comply with such uniform policies to enforce discipline, and that the ban would apply in countries such as Jamaica.

Since I was a young girl, and still to this day, I have occasionally worn cornrows. However, I recall men and boys adopting the look being a more recent thing in England–hairstyles with a short back and side being more popular when I was growing up. I think the way boys wear their hair owes something to their cultural heritage dating back to Africa or the Caribbean, but it also owes something to fashion and to their cultural icons.

Between1920 and 1960, musicians such as The Temptations popularized “the conk” before the Black Power movement established the Afro as a symbol of pride. Tracing popular African American hairstyles over the last four decades, you could start with The Jackson Five’s Afros in the seventies, continue to Bobby Brown’s hi-top fade in the eighties, dabble in an S-Curl to achieve a look similar to Ginuwine’s or just fade into Joe’s bald head in the nineties, add a bit of color like Sisqo, before arriving at today’s cornrows, as exemplified by the likes of Trey Songz and R Kelly. Reflecting on the varied hairstyles such artists have sported as they aged, the critics of the judge’s ruling start to curry favor. For example, a 20-year-old Usher sports cornrowed hair in Donell Jones’ 1999 video for “You Know What’s Up”, but at 32, he sports a somewhat Mohican Afro with shaved sides. Similarly, while Maxwell was renown for his Afro when he emerged in 1994, at 38, he has famously shaved his hair off. He’s in good company with Jamie Foxx ditching his twists for a close shave. Conversely, the likes of Reggae star Bob Marley – once adult – have been faithful to a single hairstyle; for him being dreadlocks.


With age comes wisdom, and as Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” documentary highlighted – some harsh realities. Some women find braids and cornrows unattractive on a man. The workplace too has it’s own expectations when it comes to hairstyles, implicit or explicit. While the music industry may embrace the freedom of expression symbolized by Michael Jackson, James Brown and Prince’s locks, other industries may be less accepting.

G is now 13-years-old and at a different school which he loves. But, you can’t help wondering if despite family traditions, as he gets older, he will choose to change his hairstyle in the same way as many male musicians have.

Though India Arie declared “I am not my Hair,” in a poem titled “I Am My Hair”, which was published in the 2009 “Hair Power – Skin Revolution” anthology, I cited braids as an extension of black culture. I also noted that hair makes statements with or without our consent – “…our hair tells tales of who we are and who we are not.” So guys, let us know what has influenced your hairstyle or that of your father, brother, son or nephew!

– Fiona  McKinson


Fiona McKinson is a freelance journalist and creative writer based in London. Contact her at

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