How is it that a White teacher — at a professed Christian school, no less — can go before her students dressed up in Black face and a dashiki during an assembly about Africa?
In New York, as well as other states, the act of “conduct unbecoming” is a judgement that can get a teacher investigated and, eventually, suspended. California, for example, calls this process the “invalidation of credentials for reasons related to identification, moral character, and inappropriate conduct for credential applicants and holders.” Isn’t this what accountability is all about? Who is hiring these teachers? What is the vetting process for assessing their morals? As educators with influence over the minds and lives of impressionable young people, it makes sense to evaluate our own comportment, both in and out of the classroom.
And yet Newsweek just reported that “a schoolteacher in California has been photographed wearing blackface to give a presentation on Central African history. The woman, who has not been named, wore makeup to darken her skin in an “offensive” attempt at “authenticity.”
What’s going on? Why do White people continue to think that dressing up in Black face is okay? Where are our White allies and disrupters to ensure that this doesn’t happen? I don’t hear you! A little louder, please!
I think that those who engage in this black face costume party fiasco know that such racist behavior is wrong. But they have their own curiosities and hang-ups about what it means to actually be a Black person in America and so they want to try it on for a day because they are guarded by the veil of their White privilege. I’d add that, as a Black teacher, I teach about topics that are completely Eurocentric on a highly effective level without ever once painting my face and skin white in an attempt to be “authentic.” The claims White people make for engaging in Blackface are the most synthetic pieces of garbage I’ve ever heard.
Mainstream White culture in America likes everything about being Black — except the burden! Our music, our food, our swag — they just don’t understand how we do what we do and, from what I see, they don’t want to know. If they did, they’d avail themselves to the plethora of Black people around them, whether it be in real physical or in online spaces. Instead, in 2019, a teacher engages in a minstrel show and then has the unmitigated gall to feign ignorance and apologize with claims of not knowing that such actions could offend.
Ya’ll wonder why I push for more Black teachers and for more pointed culturally relevant education for all teachers — especially White ones — who teach Black and Brown students every day. Their lack of knowledge of the cultures and history of the students they teach can be psychologically damaging.
Stunts like this one support my claim. I’m still stuck on how any educated, trained, certified, mentored teacher could go through the whole process of dressing up in Black face and think that somehow that was synonymous with being authentic. That’s straight-up racist! Is this happening in other schools? Maybe not as outrightly as the wearing of Black face in public, but the mindset that drives such actions runs rampant throughout classroom leaders in every state. I’ve written aboutWhite teachers in the NYC DOE who’ve allegedly engaged in questionably overt racist practices.
Robin Givhan lends great insight into exactly why blackface is so blatantly racist and painful when she writes, “Blackface — or, more gently, black makeup — is just a costume. It’s just fashion. Maybe. But why choose that one? People are wearing it for the same historical reason they always have: It amuses them. It’s an opportunity to dabble in otherness and then wipe off the black and go back to being “so white” with all the benefits that entails.”
From the classroom to the boardroom to the red carpet to the political arena, too many White people have dabbled in the wearing of Black face (see this list from CNN), all of whom are in positions of great influence. Teachers are no exception. This type of behavior should never be tolerated by any respectable school administration and community.
In fact, in the very case which sparked my writing of this blog post, it was the outrage of the parents and students who bought it to national media attention. I thank God for them. I shudder to think about how many “blackface-esque” lessons are being taught in classrooms in each state of our country. When will enough be enough? Newsflash: You’re not Black! You’ll never be Black! You couldn’t handle being Black so for everyone’s sake, burn your black face makeup kits the way you burn your crosses and just stop it, once and for all!
This post originally appeared at New York School Talk.