Are Black, Female Educators Expected To Be ‘Mammy’ In The Classroom?

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Stanford Senior Associate Dean Dr. Hannah Valantine

Writing for The Feminist Wire, Dr. Manya Whitaker, an Assistant Professor of Education at Colorado College, penned an essay that is both powerful and vulnerable in its truth.

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Examining the ways that Black, female educators are forced to navigate the White patriarchal space of the academy, Whitaker explains that her dark skin and afro-textured hair comes with a set of expectations that she refuses to meet:

 Compared to our white counterparts, women of color are held to different standards. Whereas they are commended for innovation, we are commended for supplication. When they break rules they are labeled rebels; when we break rules we are labeled unemployed.

The perversion of our other-motherness into the caricature of Mammy discourages women of color from teaching as their most authentic selves. We are expected to cultivate student voice while silently acquiescing to white male constructions of teacher quality. We are the token few deemed good enough to enter the Master’s domain and we should show our gratitude through deference.

No thank you.

You have not done me a favor by ‘allowing’ me in the house. I earned my space. I reject your attempt to rectify the relationship between black women and white privilege through thinly veiled oppression dressed up as opportunity. Yet so many women, too many, accept this as par for the course in education. Just as our poor, immigrant and ethnic minority students deserve the right to learn, brown and black teachers deserve the right to teach. Without our hands tied by apron strings.

Someone pass this sister the collection plate because she’s is preaching.

The expectation that Black women are nurturers and never fighters — that we must be subservient and silent unless spoken to — is a stereotype that persists in all areas of life, from romantic relationships to college classrooms and political arenas.

This is partly why Michelle Cottle’s recent attack on First Lady Michelle Obama was so racist. She wasn’t merely attacking the First Lady, she was attacking Blackness from her White feminist vantage point and casting Mrs. Obama as “Mammy-in-Chief.” Black women aren’t expected to nurture and challenge the status quo; we aren’t expected to know how. We’re expected to stay “in our place,” unless of course we inhabit a traditionally White patriarchal role such as “First Lady,” then we’re expected to take our cue from White feminists on the right way to behave while occupying what is traditionally their spot.

In Whitaker’s case, she is speaking out against being cast in a stereotypical, supporting role on an academic plantation. And for that, she deserves respect.

Read her entire piece, “The Color of Teaching: Expectations of Mammy In The Classroom,” at The Feminist Wire.

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