Category Archives: Education
I have long been concerned by the number of Black people who believe that reproductive freedom is somehow a threat to Black freedom. There have been various instances of conservative Blacks group who perpetuate the false notion that Black women exercising reproductive freedom is somehow antithetical to Black freedom, and the overall progress of the Black community. What I read within these conservative agendas is the notion that Black women’s reproductive freedom is a threat to Black patriarchy and White supremacy. These two entities conspire to relegate the Black woman’s reproductive freedom to a location of betrayal, simultaneously posing a threat to the control that patriarchal Black men and racists White want to hold over the Black woman and the Black community.
I have long believed that reproductive freedom is one of the primary ways in which we assert ourselves as free people. As the great-grandson of a Black woman who was forced to have an abortion, I have always known, or rather sensed, that there was something important and revolutionary in our ability to control our own bodies. Reproductive freedom is one of the main freedoms on which all other freedoms rest, and without it we are forever vulnerable to the forces of oppression. I speak openly about the fact that Black women’s writing has been one of my primary pathways to feminism and feminist movement. Enter Toni Morrison. In her foreword to Beloved, Toni Morrison outlines the questions that propelled her to write her critically acclaimed work. One paragraph stands out from the others in its articulation of the struggles that Blacks, in particular Black women, have faced within this racist and sexist society.
Toni Morrison writes,
“In the eighties, the debate was still roiling; equal pay, equal treatment, access to professions, schools…. and choice without stigma. To marry or not. To have children or not. Inevitably these thoughts led me to the different history of Black women in this country–a history in which marriage was discouraged, impossible, or illegal; in which birthing children was required, but “having” them, being responsible for them–being, in other words, their parent–was as out of the question as freedom. Assertions of parenthood under conditions peculiar to the logic of institutional enslavement were criminal.”
In one short paragraph, Toni Morrison poignantly articulates many of my own sentiments about the role, and necessity, of reproductive freedom in Black life. The powers who conspire to deny Black women of bodily autonomy don’t want us to remember the not so distant past in which Black women, and Black people, were the victims of their anti-choice institution. Sexist and racist America depends on Black people not understanding the degree to which they were denied reproductive freedom, and why our control of our own bodies, our right to make our own reproductive choices, is one of the most important aspects of any Black freedom movement.
In my mind, there is no question as to whether or not Black women, Black people, or any people should have control over their reproductive decisions. How could I look at the past and ignore the many ways in which this sexist and racist society thwarted Black reproductive freedom? It becomes clear me to me that aiding in the denial of reproductive freedom only furthers the marginalization of Black people. White supremacy and Black patriarchy have long been in cahoots. This becomes clear to me when conservative Whites and conservative Blacks unite in an effort to deny Black women reproductive freedom. Those Black people who are interested in Black freedom must think deeply about the ways in which their participation in the denial of Black reproductive freedom functions to further oppress Black people. Our notions of freedom in a White racist society should begin with our bodies. Reproductive freedom is Black freedom.
This item was brought in by one of my sixth grade media studies students. My students have been learning about gender stereotypes all year long, and they are keenly aware of the sexist messaging that takes place in this society. This particular item was spotted by one of my students’ parents, while at work, and they encouraged her to bring it in to share with me, and her media studies classmates. This advertisement is a prime example of the sexist expectations forced upon women in a patriarchal society. How awesome is it to have a parent invested in the critical education that their child is receiving? Very awesome.
Blaming Feminists for problems between men and women is like blaming Civil Rights activists for problems between Blacks and Whites. Foolish. Feminism simply brings much needed attention to the issues that patriarchy creates. It does not create the issues. Without feminism, patriarchy would still create the conditions for men to exploit women and “weaker” men. Feminism merely sheds light on it. The voice of feminism whispers to us all: you have a choice.
Everything I learn I share, because otherwise what is the point? No one benefits from hoarded knowledge.
One of my sixth grade students brought this commercial to my attention during the Media Studies class that I teach. The commercial, titled “Like Father, Like Son,” shows a little boy playing with various toys. The commercial shows the little boy playing with different toys, but makes no effort to comment on them being “boy toys” or “girl toys.” They are simply portrayed as toys, and ones that the little boy in the commercial is interested in playing with. I’m not sure if this is a first for Chevy, or car commercial in general, but it is refreshing to see a child playing with various types of toys, and not just the toys we think they should be playing with based on their gender. It’s refreshing to see a car company as prominent as Chevy challenge gender stereotypes.
Watch the commercial below!
“Institutional Oppression is the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group. Institutional Oppression creates a system of invisible barriers limiting people based on their membership in unfavored social identity groups. The barriers are only invisible to those “seemingly” unaffected by it.” – Tools For Diversity
“Myth: an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify asocial institution.” – Collins English Dictionary
Let’s test our knowledge of social myths, and the systems of oppression that underlie them. Match the social myth to the correct system of oppression.
Systems of Oppression:
1. White Supremacy
3. Heterosexism (homophobia)
7. Religious Fundamentalism
a. “I was so devastated when I found out my boyfriend cheated on me with a tranny. I mean, that’s not even a real woman. Ugh. A chick with a dick? That is so disgusting.”
b. “I only date people who make more than $100,00 a year. Anyone who makes less than that isn’t cultured, and probably hasn’t been many places. They probably shop at Citi Trends or something. Could you imagine dating someone who drives a Chevy Malibu? Pathetic.”
c. “I wouldn’t let a gay man watch my son.”
d. “Black people don’t never stick together. That’s why I don’t trust other Black people.”
e. “Introducing Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis Williams III.”
f. “Look at that midget!”
g. “Atheists don’t have morals. How can you have morals if you don’t believe in god?”
Answers: 1. d 2. e 3. c 4. a 5. f 6. b 7. g
I strongly believe in the act of asking questions. Questions are one of the primary ways by which new knowledge is yielded. But, I also know that the way we frame questions, and the implications of that framing, are also important aspects of the act of asking questions. Recently, I was involved in two situations that centered around the act of asking questions, and the implications that come from these questions. In this essay, I will explore the act of questioning, the way questions are framed, and the implications, if any, of asking questions.
Thinkers, intellects, scholars, and academics all ask questions. I would be hard pressed to find a person who did not expect anyone to not ask questions. However, I will continue to assert that the questions we ask, and the way that they are framed, are just as important as the answers we seek. There absolutely exists a need to ask questions, but there is also a need, or rather, a responsibility to be aware of the way in which we frame questions, and the implications, many times negative, that come along from poorly framed questions.
As I mentioned earlier, I have recently been involved with two situations regarding questions, framing, and implications. The first situation revolved around a question asked by Dr. Steve Perry. Perry, most known for his Capital Preparatory Magnet School, asked a question that left some feeling uneasy. Perry asked, “Given the recent FAMU tragedy, do Black groups, colleges & high schools foster brutality?” On the surface, Perry’s question looked to many to be an opportunity to start dialogue on hazing in American schools, but looking deeper we can see that the question is also problematic. The way in which the question is framed, its placing of an HBCU next to a question invoking Black brutality, has certain racist implications, in my opinion. Perry has the right to ask his question, but there also exists a right to consider the framing and implications. Would a similar question ever be leveled at White America? Would the sexual assault that took place at Penn State constitute an examination of the brutality of White America? I think not. There tends to be a need to associate individual Black acts with collective Black pathology. Perry’s question could have been framed in any number of ways, and it still would have sparked the conversation that Perry had in mind.
The second incident revolved around a question asked by “Dr. Goddess,” a well known Twitter personality. After reading an article about Kobe Bryant’s alleged sexual activities, Dr. Goddess posed a question the following question to Twitter, “If you’re a heterosexual man and you just LOVE anal sex, like, it’s your preference… are you really gay? #curious #sorry.” In my mind, this question immediately ran as homophobic, but others had different opinions, particularly Dr. Goddess. In her mind, the question wasn’t problematic because, in her own words, “I really DON’T know “gay life,” “I HONESTLY do not know. Is that okay? I mean… I am so confused right now…” Like unintended bigots before her, Dr. Goddess hid behind her heterosexual privilege, as opposed to accounting for the way she framed her question, and the implications of that question. Many people came to the aid of Dr. Goddess, and they were well within their right to do so. In their mind, questions are incapable of harboring bigotry, after all, questions are the way that new knowledge is yielded. I would disagree, however. I think it was possible for Dr. Goddess to examine heterosexuality without using homosexual as “sexual other” on which heterosexuality is examined. The question need not to have invoked homosexuality at all. For example, “If you are a straight man, and you really enjoy anal, why don’t you prefer vaginal?” Or, “What are our thoughts on anal sex as practiced among heterosexuals?” These all could have sparked a conversation on anal sex, and they would have done so without using homosexuality as a sexuality stepping stone. “I think questions, particularly those poorly framed, have a long history of racist, sexist, and homophobic implications, and this was just a continuation of that history.
There exists a very real stereotype, underlying homophobia, that insists that anal sex is a thing that gay people do. This homophobic stereotype assumes that heterosexuals do not consistently engage in anal sex, and that it is one of the hallmarks of homosexuality. Both stereotypes are untrue. I don’t know all the statistics on anal sex, but anyone who has watched a heterosexual porn knows that anal sex place, and often. Also, as someone who is gay, I know that there are a variety of sexual activities engaged in by members of the gay community. The assumption that anal sex is “gay,” also, rests upon the phallocentric assumption that lesbians do not count as gay.
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, we get a clear picture of the very real implications that arise from our poorly framed questions. In the novel, the protagonist Sethe recounts her experience with a White racist man named Schoolteacher, who used questions to support and explore his racist thinking. Schoolteacher, “measures the body of the enslaved and asks incessant, probing questions in order to control them through his knowledge of them.” I highlight this, to bring light to the fact that questions are quite capable of carrying bigoted associations and implications. Bigotry– in Dr. Goddess’ case homophobia–is often enshrined in the act of questioning.
I do not believe that Dr. Steve Perry or Dr. Goddess are horrible people, but I do think they are, both, individuals who had lapses in judgment. They asked poorly framed questions, and were unwilling to accept that their questions had negative implications. No one, not even respected thinkers, is above criticism. We all have a responsibility to exercise care and consideration when we ask questions.
Update: Here is a collection of the tweets that transpired that night. I don’t feel that it’s very cohesive, but it’s better than nothing. Judge for yourselves. chirpstory.com/li/3601
Vernacular: The commonly spoken language or dialect of a particular people or place.
I begin this essay with the full understanding that definitions do not tell the whole story. I chose to define vernacular because I feel it offers an entry-level understanding of what I mean when I talk about the language of Black gay people. There is much more to the languages spoken by Black gays, but I do think the definition is a useful starting point.
I believe that I have always known of Black Gay Vernacular, to some extent, but my full awareness of, and entrance into, the language came when I created an account on a site titled Black Gay Chat. This site, populated mostly by Black gay men, provided me with an entrance into Black gay culture. It was in the forums of this site that I began to dialogue with Black gay people from all over the world. Reading the profiles of members, conversing with members in chat rooms, and reading message boards, were some of the ways that I began to access a language that I would come to learn and love. I would begin to learn all about “the tea,” and “shade,” on this site, but it would take another experience to truly familiarize with Black Gay Vernacular.
Growing up in a small, predominately White, town did not provide me with much access to Black gay life. The only openly gay person that I knew of in my immediate surrounding was a drag queen named “Punk Jerry.” I always found Punk Jerry to be thrillingly entertaining, if not a little misguided and the subject of constant taunting, but he carried himself with a confidence that anyone could appreciate. As far as small town life goes, Punk Jerry was a Polar Bear in a desert, but insisting on his right to exist there, none the less.
So, in the fall of 2006 I entered college as a freshmen student at Florida A&M University. It would be in this environment that I would come to fully integrate myself into Black Gay Vernacular. In college, I came into contact with a host of words and expressions that I had never heard of. The Black gays in this college town had a language all their own, one separate from the language used by the heterosexual environment of my youth. In the settings I found myself in college, “shade” “the tea,” “miss girl,” “yes ma’am,” “stud,” “femme,” “paid it,”, “kiki,” “read,” “Alice,” “sick’ning,” “trade,” and “late” were the words commonly and affectionately used. Learning this language was like learning any other language, it took work and familiarity with those who spoke it. I would become familiar with this language by my continued embracing of the Black gay culture of Tallahassee.
I’d like to share some examples of Black Gay Vernacular in action. If you’re not familiar with Black gay culture, you likely won’t understand a word of what I am saying, but for those who are familiar it will be like talking to an old friend.
“The real T is that mama couldn’t get her coins up so she boosted that store and trade called Alice.”
“That performance last night was sick’ning. He cleared it, and the late kids couldn’t take.”
“The kids are going to gag when I tip through the bar.”
“Shade comes from reading.” – Dorian Corey (Got to know my history)
“That gave me my life.”
“The kids cleared it, last night. They did not have it!”
These are but a few examples of Black Gay Vernacular, in action, and I could honestly go on all day with colorful examples of the language. I could explain what it all means, but I think an understanding of the language should come with access to the group that uses the language. As the saying goes, to know there you have to go there.
The conditions that make a Black gay vernacular necessary are the same as those that underlie the development of all languages. There has been, and remains, a need for Black gay people to communicate with each other, removed from the gaze of heterosexual gaze. The vernacular employed by Black gays does not need to be validated by outsiders because our participation in it, and continued invention of it, is all the validation that is needed.
Like all languages, there are certain issues that pop up in Black Gay Vernacular. There are many within the Black Gay Community who rightfully contest the usage of certain words and expressions, I being one such person. I have called into question the use of popular word “fish,” and many others take issue with the use of “girl.” I do, however, feel that these words can be used among familiars, such as a group of friends, but the issue comes into play when people use the word with those they are not familiar with.
In my opinion, the future of Black Gay Vernacular is bright. New words, phrases, and expressions are being created every day. Somewhere, a creative young gay is crafting term to express themselves and their friends, and this act represents the vitality of language.
Toni Morrison once wrote, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” The language of the Black gay community remains one of the greatest measures of our lives, a reminder of our creativity, our insistence on expressing ourselves in a racist and homophobic society.
Many have contributed to the creation of a Black gay vernacular, but I would like to close by paying homage to one of the legendary queens of the Black gay community– Dorian Corey, of Paris Is Burning fame. I’ll never forget Dorian Corey sharing the etymology of the term “shade.” I celebrate you Dorian as I celebrate the Black Gay Vernacular that I so love.
“I do not need magic to change the world; I carry all the power I need inside myself already: I have the power to imagine better.” – J. K. Rowling
When I accepted a job as a sixth grade world history teacher, I knew that I was entering territory that had been occupied by many critical educators before me. I knew of the possibilities of education when it was melded with critical consciousness, and I was eager to partake in those possibilities, possibly extending them further.
I entered the education field with many tools at my disposal: an education from Florida A&M University, the full support of my family, my lifelong commitment to the field, and a true love for the subject that I was teaching. But, I knew that the goal that I had in mind for education would require something else, and that I would have to call upon my critical imagination to make that goal a reality. Spells would not be needed for the work that I was undertaking, but I did know that my critical imagination would serve me well in this endeavor, and, so, I entered the classroom with a commitment to feminist principles. I would as bell hooks says, educate out of a love for male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other.
I have witnessed the opening of many doors on my journey as a feminist educator. Early on, I was given the opportunity to teach an elective class along with the content area course that I was required to teach. I conversed with many friends about the nature of the elective course, and what I wanted it to be, and with the encouragement of fellow feminist educator, Darnell Moore, I decided that I would teach a course on Media Studies as my elective. I truly felt that by interrogating the media, I would be able to bring a feminist ethics into the classroom in ways that are both interesting and liberating.
My journey as a feminist educator began on August 22, 2011. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous upon entering the classroom, and choosing to do the work that I was setting out to do. There are many people in the field of education, many of whom love it dearly, but there are few people educating for critical consciousness, and thus I knew that the work that I was about to undertake would be both risky and dangerous. For one thing, we are a society that deeply mistrusts and undervalues the critical capabilities of our students. We shield our students away from thinking critically about race, gender, and class, in the hopes that their ignorance of these issues will somehow make them more capable of confronting them. So, I dealt with the nagging insecurity that I would be misunderstood and misjudged for believing in the critical capabilities of sixth graders, for thinking that the 11 and 12 year old mind was as, or more, capable of confronting the deep questions plaguing our world today. Would sixth graders appreciate bell hooks? Would an 11 year old understand Toni Morrison? These were questions on my mind, and ones that I have been able to answer as the months have gone on.
It’s impossible for me to recount all the classroom experiences I have had over the past few months, but there have been many occasions of joy and reverie in my feminist classroom. I wasted no time in getting my students to think critically about gender, race, and class. After an initial breakdown of the five categories of the media, I had my students’ list terms and phrases that they felt were associated with each category: film, TV, movies, radio, and newspapers. These categories generated many responses, and thus began our journey.
One of the first things I did was a feminist educator was to train my students to be critical consumers of the media. I utilized Channel One news, to teach my students how to analyze, and not just be entertained by, the media. I had to model this behavior for my students, and, so, I showed them what kinds of things to look for. Was their racial diversity among the anchors? Were the anchors dressed in stereotypical colors or clothing to go along with their gender? How was class inserted into the shows? My students are now very adept at analyzing the news, and all aspects of media.
In one particular incident, Channel One news anchors repeatedly referred to the viewing audience by using the supposedly gender neutral greeting “Hey guys.” I asked my students whether or not they felt that “hey guys” was a gender neutral greeting, and while some of them thought it was, many other challenged the notion. Male and female students were quick to point out that one gender should not have to accept being ignored. One female student noted that she is not a guy, and didn’t want to be called one, either. I sent an email to Channel One news producer Dr. Paul Falkner letting him know that while my students and I enjoyed the newscast, we did not appreciate the privilege of one gender over the other. I shared the email with my students, and showed them the follow up response that I got from Channel One news. We were excited to see the show change its language, if only momentarily. Current broadcasts continue to struggle with using gender inclusive language, but my students remain critical of each occurrence, and always make note when an anchor refers to men and women as “guys.”
I and my students have tackled many issues in our Media Studies class. We have discussed the JC Penny’s T-shirt incidents, Occupy Wall Street, the death of Libyan dictator Gadhafi, the use and misuse of power, violence, homecoming queens, school bullying, media stereotypes, and much, much more. All of these issues have been better illuminated by the foregrounding of race, gender, and class consciousness into the classroom. We have been able to do more than scratch the surface of issues, but to truly interrogate them with a critical eye.
Most recently, I have been guiding my students through film, and allowing them to critically dissect the way that race, gender, and class are communicated in films directed toward children. PG films like The Incredibles aren’t usually thought to message our children about race, gender, and class, but they do. My students noted that Frozone’s wife had a stereotypical Black woman’s voice. My students noted that Helen aka “Elastigirl” spent the majority of the film doing housework. My students noted that there was a lack of racial diversity in the film, and that all of the cops were men. Their findings could go on and on. I want to note that these are critical discoveries they are making with their 11 and 12 year old eyes. Their young minds are keenly aware of the way that gender, race, and class are being messaged to them.
As a feminist educator, it is not enough for me to focus solely on gender. I strongly believe that systems of domination work in accordance with each other to marginalize our lives. My focus, as a feminist educator, has to be on race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and disability. I have to make critical interventions in the classroom concerning a number of issues, and the work is never done.
Just recently, I had a student remark that she was going to paint her dog’s nails, but then thought otherwise because it is a male dog. I encouraged my student to consider that a female dog wouldn’t necessarily be any more interested in having its nails painted either. The student came to understand that we can’t make assumptions about gender that not all boys and girls like the same things, and that is why gender stereotypes are so dangerous.
I’m sure many are wondering how my student’s parents feel about the work that I am doing in their students educational lives. I am pleased to say that I have received support and affirmation from my student’s parents. One of my coworkers, who have a son in my class, awarded me for the school’s “academic achievement” award, given to an outstanding classroom teacher who shows passion for the subject, and encourages students to make real-world connections with what is being learned. She noted the work that I am doing in the media studies class as one of the main reasons for giving me this award. I have had parents tease me about their homes becoming locations where all sorts of stereotypes are recognized, named, and challenged.
I feel very fortunate to be doing the work that I am doing. I know that some people search an entire lifetime looking to do the passionate work they were put on this earth to perform, and I am glad to say that I am performing my work at the age of twenty-three. I trusted in my imagination, I listened deeply to my critical voice, and I made a commitment to education. I never once doubted that my sixth graders wouldn’t be able to grasp the concepts we discuss, or that they wouldn’t be interested in the work that we do in our class. In my opinion, the mind is more fecund at their age, and, thus, more open to interrogating topics of race, gender, and class. I think we truly do ourselves, and our nation, a disservice by making students wait until college to discuss the topics that they are more than capable of discussing in middle school. My students have shown that they are capable, and countless other students around the country have as well. I am proud to be among the ranks of the world’s feminist educators, and I hope to continue to doing the powerful and necessary work of feminist education. New narratives are being written in education, and I intended to continue being one of the writers.