When it comes to classrooms, it feels like I have seen it all in these past 20 years. I did student teaching in a third grade classroom in South Central Los Angeles, moved to a junior high school in the Bronx, then high school, then college teaching. I have been to more funerals than I care to count, prayed with and for ex-convicts to find a way out, watched over small children while single mothers took care of business, worked with public safety to protect female students from physically abusive male partners (who have been known to come to campus to look for their ex-girlfriends/wives), helped students fight racist teachers, helped gay students fight homophobic campuses, helped parolees check(-in with) parole officers, fed/transported students who had no way there. You name it, I have seen it. It’s the nature of what it means to commit to working class/working poor communities in one of the central racist institutions that holds them hostage: SCHOOL. The college classrooms that I have taught in are not that much different than that first junior high school where I taught in the poorest congressional school district in the country.
The statistics tell us that 1 in every 4 or 5 female students in college (depending on which stats you look at) have been raped. I don’t need them stats though: I can attest to that number via the conversations I have had with female students in every college classroom I have taught in. The only thing that really connects all of these experiences and classrooms is the TOTAL incongruence between who these students are and how they get depicted— whether that be so-called “educational research” or scholarship or media depictions. In media, they are savages who cannot control themselves. In scholarship, they are hopeless remedial readers and writers in need of a paternalistic white savior (or, the distant cousin— the pied-piper of color) who has studied all of the right strategies (we might want to START wondering how any graduate program/college can prepare you to teach the communities that they are NOT enrolling or really employing as faculty). For those who are privileged, these students are just authorized to be self-hating, anti-Ebonics, and anti-black since those things get anointed as post-racial or non-essentialist. In everyday parlance, we imagine these students to be so hopelessly bamboozled by mass culture (often called “popular culture” by post-modernists) that they do not know they are being robbed of time, money, spirit, and sanity.
The one thing I can count on is that I can’t count on media or academia to speak to, for, or about the people who I have had the opportunity to call my students. It’s an important reminder that can shake me loose when my mind gets stuck on stupid. Thank you to Vaughn Ephraim who shook me loose in this moment. Vaughn sent me the following video, “NA-TU-RAL” by Qu’ality that he thought I might enjoy.
He was right. Vaughn’s message when he sent me the video was equally deep for me. Here is part of that message about why he knows, values, and listens to Qu’ality:
The song is called “Na-tu-ral” and it features shots of young ladies with all different kinds of natural hair styles. It is put together very well and I think it’s important to acknowledge black men who promote and acknowledge and love the beauty in black women. He is in within my age group, which is another important factor as it shows our generation is not fully tainted or corrupted with the vile and chauvinistic conditioning of white male western dominance which is simply below sub-par.
I agree with Vaughn. Vaughn’s sentiments as well as what we see and hear in Qu’ality’s video are not what we often see and hear about young black men and women today. Thank you, Vaughn! Keep on pushin! I am learning from you.