Sociology Of Hairstyles

Sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists have long determined that one’s outer appearance has much to do with ones values, beliefs and ideals. It is these attributes that form our true identify. One significant part of that identify is our hairstyle. People have used their hairstyles, not only to set them apart from the group but also to establish themselves within the group. It is for this reason that many women constantly change their hairstyles as they seek to fit into social norms by going for what is currently popular and in-fashion.

But what of the woman that has chosen the path of resistance and have refused to change her hairstyle?

Jamaica reported its first Chikungunya case back in July. Nearly three months later, if I were to go by media reports it seems all three million Jamaicans except for my immediate family have been victims of the virus even though the official confirmed cases stands at 35 at last reporting.

Over that time too, a chemical scientist, dental surgeon and Jamaica’s 12th Minister of Health, Honourable Dr Fenton Ferguson has increasingly come in for criticism for his handling of the seeming crisis with even calls for his dismissal.

So what does hairstyle have to do with Chikungunya? And, why did Jamaica seem so ill-prepared to deal with the virus? Simple! We just need to ignore Dr Ferguson for a bit and look at the significant role of two women in this situation. One, his boss, the Most Honourable Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, the other, his chief public health advisor, Dr Marion Bullock Ducasse, Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services in the Ministry Of Health (MOH).

In the absence of adequate information from an authoritative source, misleading information like this gets wide circulation

For as long as we, that is, anyone in their 40’s and younger can remember, these two women have never changed their hair styles and have always worn the very same red/brown/maroon-coloured lipsticks. What does this teach us about these women? That is a sign of their inherent resistance to change. A resistance to trying anything new; a resistance to being current; a resistance to standing with popular opinion. Nothing will ever change about them and the way they do things.

Living In The Information Age Without Information

As a social and behaviour change communicator, I fully get withholding information so as not to cause widespread panic. But in the age of information where every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane can access their own information from the internet, BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger, etc; information which is very likely unreliable and downright false, it was time to change the communications approach at the MOH.

Mind you, the lady is an expert and very knowledgeable. Everything I know about emergency, health and crisis communications I learnt from her. That expertise was demonstrated in activating the response protocols, screening, surveillance, identification and destruction of vector breeding sites to control the spread of Chik-V. That is why we did very well with standard operating procedures (SOPs). Because, it was the normal and expected course of action.
Facebook Screen Grab

When it comes to SOPs, Dr Bullock Ducasse has that down to a tee. I am confident that what happened with the Ebola patient in Texas, would never have happened in Jamaica. That is why I disagree that Dr Ferguson or anyone else for that matter deserves to be fired. While SOPs somewhat remains constant; the method, mode and medium of communication will change rapidly. Another big change is how frequently we now travel far and wide to others countries. We failed at communicating in a modern age because change was required. Something that is impossible for Dr Bullock Ducasse.

IRIE FM must be commended for raising awareness of Chik-V and other matters of national and international interest. Like many people turn up to Church on a Sunday morning, I tune in to IRIE 107 FM to be edified by KaBu Maat Kheru (aka Andrea William Green), host of The Running African for the Pan African gospel. So from as early as November 2012, I had Chikungunya on my surveillance. Now we are being prepared for Ebola, its possible relative Marburg and the Enterovirus D68.

Personally, I expect Jamaican authorities to manage them well. But I doubt we will see any improvement in public communication. We have butchered HIV/AIDS, human rights and gender communications. We have always been poor communicators and it will only get worse in the age of information.

I admire the strength of these two ladies to stay the path of resistance.These two women and others like them will do very well when they are expected to do what they have always done in a manner that they have always done it.It is futile to expect them to embrace change.But, our communications timelines and methods must change.

Old-school approaches will become counter-productive and only serve to increase panic and cause crisis. Two brand new hairstyles coming right up!

Originally published at on October 13, 2014.