I grew up in the 80’s. The Beastie Boys grew in popularity while I was a teenager. There were many people within hip hop who hated them. Felt that they were trying to co-op the music. They were muddying the message.
Their blend of punk, funk, and rap was a unique sound. In time, their advocacy and amplification of the genre and of marginalized people groups showed that they are the real deal. When Run DMC took them under their wing, they were ‘official’.
I really didn’t come to respect what the Beastie Boys represented until I was an adult. The Beastie Boys were allies.
They weren’t perfect, but they worked to dismantle privilege. They made music about the times they lived in. When they weren’t in front of the camera, they were on the ground bringing attention to things that most white people during the 80’s and early 90’s wouldn’t have looked at.
When people of color questioned their motives, they doubled down on advocacy. They continued to call out prejudice. They wrote anti-war anthems and put their money where their lyrics went. They didn’t try to defend themselves. They didn’t ask why they were mistrusted. They just put their heads down and did the work. Today, they are Hall of Fame inductees. People of all backgrounds can look back at their body of work and its clear what their intentions were.
There are teachers out there today that are allies in the same way that the Beastie Boys were in music. They advocate. They march. They donate time and money. They teach in high poverty schools. They amplify the voices of their students who might be marginalized otherwise. You look at their social media platforms and they are full of proof after proof of their allegiance. There is no confusion.
Then, there are the Vanilla Ice teachers. The ones that don’t know the first thing about urban poverty, but want to dab and juju with their students like this is what they do all the time. They don’t use their platform to advocate for the urban youth that they teach. They aren’t looking to unseat privilege of all kinds when it crosses their path. Their music choices are the whitest of the white, and they have no desire to support any initiatives that elevate the rights of anyone non-white. I have written to this phenomenon several times.
This concept that in order to reach urban poor youth, you need to co-opt their music and make it into an acronym for test taking strategies. This is foolishness. In order to build relationships, you’ve got to be ‘cool’ or ‘hood’ so that your students know you are here for them. Again–more foolishness.
I posted this article on my personal facebook page and there were tons of responses. My take on it is this. If you are sharing your love of the culture you are reaching in your classroom, go on and do it! That commonality is a huge draw for your learners. If you love black music, black movies, black literature….share that love. I’m sure that will pique your students’ interest! If you are researching the culture of your learners and you come to find that you love something and want to share that love and experience that with your kids, please do that. Here’s what is troubling. Teachers who are Vanilla Ice-ing the profession. Sharing ‘hip’ pop culture references in isolation of that being a part of their own understanding.
When other teachers of color are looking for allies, we are looking for the real deal. You don’t need to be perfect…but, if you’re all about the whip and nae nae…but you’ve got zero advocacy posts on your social media? You’ve just stepped into Vanilla Ice territory. You must be about the things that matter most beyond the gimmicky, low hanging fruit. It doesn’t mean it’s not teaching. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids…but it does ring false. If it rings false to this brown teacher, you may need to wonder what your brown and black parents think. You must be about what is authentically YOU.
These are the critical conversations that we brown and black teachers need to be having with white colleagues. It’s what will TRULY help you reconsider paradigms so that you can do what you truly want to do–meet the needs of your learners.
Let’s have some real dialog, friends.