A few years after my school board rescinded almost all parts of its dress code policy I was in an empty classroom at lunchtime listening to a colleague explain why he still tells Black boys to take their durags off.
“I tell my own son, ‘them things are for bed or inside the home,’” he said. “‘I don’t want to see you with that on your head outside in public.’” He spoke about preparing Black students for their future and holding them accountable for how they dressed.
“I hear you,” I said. I did hear him. Here we were. Two Black men talking about ways to help Black boys become Black kings. “But I see it differently,” I continued.
The truth is: Not only do I disagree; but I see it as a form of anti-Black racism and the opposite of culturally responsive pedagogy. Instances like this, however casual, are forms of culturally not-so responsive pedagogy. I have a problem with any infringement on Black students representing Black culture inside of their schools. Especially when it comes from Black teachers.
Black folks shutting down aesthetic demarcations of Black culture inside schools is the stuff that is supposed to be picked up by––to use Kiese’s terms––the worst of white folk. I personally don’t care how a Black teacher chooses to raise their own children. I don’t care which suburb they choose to buy their home in. Or what they decide to put in it. Or what they tell their children to take off or put on once they step out of it. But I do care about how Black folk take up forms of Blackness in our schools. I do care about Black folks who teach towards anything less than validating or examining all parts of Black culture and then turn around and preach culturally responsive pedagogy.
What they’re doing is actually Culturally Not-So Responsive Pedagogy. And the truth is: doing that may be more harmful than simply ignoring Black culture. Especially when it comes from Black teachers.
I don’t need a cultural competency chart to know where I stand. Reading an article will never erase then override my lived experience. We don’t get to––to use Kiese’s terms––that Black abundance by tucking in and taking off parts of our Black selves. Black excellence and acceptance is not tethered to assimilation. Black excellence and acceptance is not tethered to assimilation. Black excellence and acceptance is not tethered to assimilation. Never that.
I wear my durag while I’m teaching all the time. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes I need a line up. Sometimes it goes with the fit. Sometimes my braids look dusty. Sometimes it just is what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. Both inside and outside of culturally responsive pedagogy. Never Culturally Not-So Responsive Pedagogy. And because of that, I can’t tell you everything that culturally responsive pedagogy is. But I sure can tell you what it’s not.
Culturally responsive pedagogy is not teaching about Black history and then delegitimizing Black futures. Culturally responsive pedagogy is not centering Black stories and then validating only a single version of our Black story. Culturally responsive pedagogy is not bringing hip-hop lyrics into the classroom and then limiting other forms of hip-hop culture and knowledge production in between those class walls. Culturally responsive pedagogy is not leading Black affinity spaces and then in those affinity spaces insidiously promoting assimilation tactics. Culturally responsive pedagogy is not befriending Black students and then chastising Black forms of belonging. Culturally responsive pedagogy is not liking and sharing all that pro-Black talk on your social media when you get home and then targeting all the Black kids every second of every day when you get to school. That is not culturally responsive pedagogy. That is Culturally Not-So Responsive Pedagogy.