Race: What Mask Should I Wear Today?
Submission by Evelyn Thomas, TNG contributor
Evelyn Thomas, also known as Corporal Evelyn Thomas, is an internationally known gay activist. She is a secondary educator with a Master of Arts in Education.
The following article is an excerpt from my book, “Does Butch Nappy Hair Offend You? One Teacher’s Struggle For Acceptance in the World of Education”. This excerpt examines intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation
“Many African-Americans believe success is obtaining the “American Dream”, earning the figurative pass into mainstream society, adapting to the values and economic standing of the white privileged classes (Hooks, 1994). With the enactment of the integration policy in 1954, many African-Americans parents of the time saw the chance for future generations of black children to achieve the dream, a possibility that was once closed to them. Additionally, with the chance of upward economic mobility came the responsibility of adapting the culture and practices of the dominate players in American society. It was a system in which “individual black folks who were most like white folks in the way they looked, talked, and dressed would find it easier to be socially mobile” (Hooks, 1994, p. 176).
The double edge sword of assimilation had a negative effect on black educators and black students. With the Supreme Court decision, many of the black teachers were terminated from their position. [Prior to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, 96 percent of full-time faculty in black schools consisted of black women. The field of teaching has historically provided a significant means of upward mobility, particular for African-American women.] The new policy of an integrated form of education provided avenues for future economic success for black children it meant the decline in population of black educators. White teachers were entrusted with the assimilation process of the black student population. Black children assimilated into this culture based on the normative practices of white aesthetics and Heteronormativity.
The integrated functions of oppression within the newly formed education system created a platform for black oppression and suppression of sexual identity. Black children had to forsake their ethnic pride (adopt the character of a white person) for any chance of social mobility. The Brown vs. the Board of Education streamlined assimilation of black children within the white culture, opened the narrow door of economic mobility, and provided a platform for white supremacy aesthetics in the hiring process of black teachers and the development of the young black mind. For a chance at economic upward mobility gay black teachers and students were forced to hide their true identity. What unfolds when these identities are elements of one person?
Kumashiro (2001) contends intersectionality “embracing the identity “queer” or “of color” is paradoxical. Sexual identity, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior are separate entities of the general motif of one person. Since every identity has meaning only because it is named against other identities, there can never be an identity that is all-inclusive”. People depending on professional, social, or personal surroundings adapt identities based on the situation. ‘There is a connection between racism and heterosexism, and racial and sexual identities. In the efforts to challenge one form of oppression of which unintentionally contributes to other forms of oppression, and our efforts embrace one form of difference often exclude and silence others” (p. 6). In our society we must address all forms of oppression and not create a pendulum based the ideas of Heteronormativity practices of sexual identity, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation.
The internal conflict of adapting to the dominant white culture of America, maintaining my ethnicity as a person and educator, and hiding my sexual orientation creates challenges in the development of my pedagogy. It is a constant internal battle of the mind. To become an educator and accepted by my white colleague, I must stray away from everything that is identified as being apart of the black culture (natural hair style, body image, music, food, beliefs, religion, etc.) To become an educator and accepted by my colleagues, students, parents, and administrators, I must hide my sexual orientation of a gay woman for the fear of being terminated from my teaching position. Sometimes I adapt many characteristics and personalities to fit in the role of a black educator and again as a gay black educator, I become unaware of my true self at times. I am a product of the social experiment of integration and an assimilation form of education. This personal narrative will detail my struggle for acceptance in the education profession.”
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