Kameelah’s entire article “Making Black Girls ‘Ladylike’” is brilliant, but here are some of the bits that really resonated with me:
Looking at the intersection of race, gender, capitalism and pedagogy, the disciplinary efforts and hidden curriculum are working toward a desired young Black woman — one who does not ask too many questions, accepts the power arrangements in schools and becomes a proper young lady — pink bows and all. Schools since their inception have been focused on the poetics of assimilation and thus are sites of production not only for the ready-made American citizen who does not challenge his government or is a depoliticized consumers, but the “acceptable” Black woman who is docile, domesticated and unchallenging.
And, of course, good little lady worker bees ready to unquestioningly accept lower-status, lower-paying jobs. And always arrive to work on time. And never complain about sexual harassment.
In this same paper, Morris argues that there is a desire to have young Black women assimilate to prototypical White middle-class views of femininity that necessitate a certain level of docility and complacency. The GenderPAC report noted that “many teachers described black female students as too sexually provocative in dress and behavior.”
Enter stage left: the endurance of historical stereotypes of Black women and hypersexuality. I am wondering how large the gap is between perception and real life and irrespective of this perceptions, schools should not become informal charm schools for young Black women who haven’t acquired the “proper” accoutrements of “ladylike” behavior.
While the report quickly asserts that “The teachers’ actions appeared to be less the result of conscious racism or sexism than an unwitting tendency to view the behavior of black girls through a different lens than that of their peers,” I am inclined to believe that if these actions are not the result of conscious racism or sexism, then we can look to unconscious racism or sexism.
Damn right. “A different lens,” unconscious racism or sexism… a rose is a rose is a rose, etc.
. . . I have gotten over my guilt about gendered apostasy and asserted that my vagina should not dictate the way I speak or act.
This is where I make that little fist-pumping gesture and loudly whisper, “Yes!” at my desk, prompting a coworker to ask what it is I’m so excited about, requiring me to come up with a way to explain my enthusiasm without actually using the word “vagina.” Good times, good times.
Moreso, how do we disrupt the culture of schooling as a site where students are directed, produced and dealt with en masse? Taneika Taylor, the director of GenderPAC’s “Children as They Are” program suggests that “[i]f our own unconscious stereotypes are prompting teachers to ‘correct’ those behaviors in young black girls, school systems need to look carefully at including this problem of teachers’ perceptions and assumptions in their diversity training.”
Let’s not get me started on “diversity training” or the word “diversity” itself. I am thinking that working on the individual attitudes of teachers is a good start, but disrupting a schooling culture of (re)production and complacency will take more than a weekend retreat at the Hyatt and discussions about celebrating token differences.
Short of a full dismantling, I think the first step is to hire more women of color as teachers, promote more women of color to administrative positions, and appoint or elect (however it works) more women of color to school boards. I don’t mean to be a self-loathing Caucasian here, but all the diversity training in the world can’t impart to a white person, even a well meaning one, the necessary knowledge and experience to make enough of a difference in our perceptions and assumptions to correct the situation within the existing paradigm.