Vivett Dukes

Teachers of Color Are 'Great!' as Long as Their Voices Are Not Too Black or Too Strong

Negroes, Sweet and docile, Meek, humble and kind: Beware the day They change their mind!

—Langston Hughes

I've been getting some pushback about writing as a teacher of color and for focusing on Black and Brown issues within education. It is perceived by some as "separatist" and "divisive." I want to address this. There are White (and Black) teachers and administrators who teach students of color (SOCs) and work alongside teachers of color day in and day out who don't want to have the difficult conversations about race relations in this country. They are the ones who find my voice to be too Black, too strong. They, who are becoming an all-too-prominent portion of the teaching profession, do not want to be held accountable for teaching culturally-relevant pedagogy because it makes them feel "uncomfortable.” Yet they find it too political when TOCs like myself create and teach such curriculum. If you are guilty of believing this, please stop trying to wrangle and reel in our voices. It's neither wanted nor welcomed. Quite frankly, it's too late for all of that! How can we not speak out when students of color are being gunned down and killed in the very neighborhoods where we teach them and live? I can't tell you how much pushback I have gotten over the course of my career as a teacher regarding my use of current events—specifically my use of news articles, pictures, and video footage about the killing of young men of color at the hands of police officers and each other—as a lens for teaching my students critical thinking, argumentative writing and debate skills. You know what's going on? I'll tell you: Systematic oppression and those who benefit from it or are mentally enslaved by such systems are scared because they know that teachers—particularly TOCs—have the unique power to start a long overdue paradigm shift in the way our students critically think about, process, and act on the environments in which they live. I just read an article on NPR last week by Anya Kamenetz that was all about how students of all ethnicities prefer and are more engaged with their teachers of color. Every time teachers of color take a stand and voice our concerns about the state of our schools and our communities, it's a problem. I'm sick of it! If you have a problem with TOCs speaking out about the ways we and SOCs are marginalized and taken for granted, that speaks more to a society at large that degrades us and simultaneously strives to shut us up than it does about who we are. Some societal introspection is definitely warranted in such a case. The revolution might not be televised, but it will be "Duked" out on social media—pun intended. I, for one, have my cerebral boxing gloves on and my mind is well-sharpened and well-equipped for the battles and the war. I am a member of W.E.B DuBois' Talented Tenth (read "The Souls of Black Folk," if you don't know what I'm talking about) and my voice in the classroom and through blogging is not only my right, but my duty. It's part two of the Harlem Renaissance for people of color and I am fully engaged.
An original version of this post appeared on New York School Talk blog.
Vivett Dukes (nèe Hemans) is in her eighth year as a middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. For her first four years in the DOE, she taught in an all-male, all minority, urban public school in Southside Jamaica, Queens erected for the express purpose of counteracting the pervasive school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown boys. Currently, she is ...

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