Whitening Our StudentsFeb 22, 2020
There exists a movement among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color all around the world (basically wherever there was colonization) to Whiten our skin. The lure of the proximity to Whiteness as a privilege and as a means for survival is both real and not new. For those of us that can’t pass as White, Whitening our skin is the next best step. The process of lightening one’s skin (because of the poppin’ melanin) can be achieved through creams and pills and I’m sure other sources, too, because business doesn’t rest.
Let me make it plain: skin bleaching, or skin whitening, is tragic. That’s really it. That’s the bottom line. There is no neutrality about it and there’s no downplaying its roots in slavery and colonization. It’s both ideologically and physically painful. Wikipedia presents it in such a “neutral’ way that it kinda makes me sick. But it’s interesting to consider this expression of it because so much related to racism is downplayed and explained in words that minimize the issue, creating a gaslighting effect. When you type “skin whitening cream” into a Google search, the results are baffling and evidence that internalized racism is real and that our people are struggling to find the beauty in ourselves.
It’s such an obvious form of self-hate. It’s one of the few tangible ways to demonstrate your internalized racism. You can watch this short video from 2013 narrating how this crisis has impacted Nigeria. This almost 3-minute video talks about the pressing issue of skin whitening in Jamaica. I don’t love this video, but the woman at the start sums up the problem pretty well. In all honesty, if you know about this issue, don’t even watch the videos. It’s all too painful.
Here’s the thing teachers, we can think of skin bleaching as a metaphor for some of our harmful teaching practices. We do this in our teaching and through our practice, too. Part of our praxis should include self-reflection. I know you know this. So, consider these questions:
- How has your teaching operated as a form of bleaching our students’ identities?
- How have your book/text/topic choices led students to only see Whiteness and therefore desire it?
- How do our expectations of student behavior function as Whiteners for their cultural and personal identities?
I know these are tough questions and it will require time to change. I’ve taken this to heart, too. I’m thinking about the ways my practice has asked students to metaphorically bleach in order to ‘fit in’ and assimilate. We have to look inward and do some digging in order to celebrate the colors we are. We have to be able to honor what our ancestors put in us and how we walk this earth. Here are some specific tools for us:
Consider this book for your professional development:
Black Appetite. White Food. Jamila Lyiscott
Consider these 3 websites for you elementary to middle school teachers to find books and resources:
Consider this if you’re also a parent:
And now, onward with this powerfully beautiful call we have in this world. Onward with teaching!
Featured image is captured from https://www.teepublic.com/long-sleeve-t-shirt/1906205-melanin-t-shirt-melanin-poppin-afro-girl Support them!
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