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I Am Not My Hair

Any/all visuals reminiscent of the India Arie banger “I am not my hair” are appropriate here, because yes . . . although this is an educational blog, we are unapologetically called upon to advocate on behalf of the redemptive beauty of our natural Black hair in both educational and professional work settings. Why?! Well obviously, simply being Black is now a crime and our children are increasingly and insanely mandated to conform to the same pre-determined, European standards of beauty which are antithetical to the splendor of our organic African selves – as a means to be educated. As a case in point, in August, an 11-year-old Black student at a private Roman Catholic school near New Orleans was formally suspended because administrators said her braided hair extensions violated school rules. A viral video shared by popular rap artist and actor T.I. on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BmtqrvmB4I2/?hl=en&taken-by=troubleman31 showed the sixth grader, Faith Fennidy, crying as she packed up her belongings and left Christ the King Parish School in La. Though the scholar student had worn braided styles for the past two years, inexplicably – such styles were now deemed a violation of school policy. Similarly, the entire Kentucky school system only recently lifted their antiquated, unbelievably racist and yet, extremely common ban on natural Black hairstyles. According to their outrageous policy: cornrows, twists and dreadlocks (among other styles), were expressly forbidden. Really? How about we outlaw stupidity, abject racism and institutionalized oppression in your backwards, un-evolved and undoubtedly mis-education fueled institutions?

In Kentucky, their actual, written policy read like an uninformed mandate on a slave plantation, “Hair styles that are extreme, distracting, or attention-getting will not be permitted. No dreadlocks, cornrolls (sic), twists, mohawks, no jewelry will be worn in the hair. No braids will be allowed on males.” As an educator, I am appalled but not surprised at the audacity + the caucasian exercise in White privilege, I.E. the #Caucasity that is required to conceive of such a policy. Having taught for 20+ years, with more than a decade in African-centered schools, comprising curricula centered on the African experience – could our schools have successfully implemented a policy whereby straight blond hair, blue eyes, pale skin, distracting long, oily hairstyles or attention-getting hair flips were disallowed? I think not. To be clear, NO hairstyle or element of identity traditionally associated with White people is deemed a violation of standard policy and has yet to be banned by schools and/or workplaces. Yet, the disclaimer for such innately discriminatory policies is evident in federal court rulings and illogical, non-scientific claims such as, “We feel that a student’s academic success is directly correlated to appropriate attire and appearance”. Clearly, despite increasing parent protests and public outrage, these policies persist in schools as a means to demonstrate a mere sign of the overtly racist times, in which we all live. The indefensible reality is that despite the record-breaking dwindling numbers of White students enrolled in U.S. public schools, American institutions are truly adept at perpetuating a White supremacist ideal – achievable and maintained via denying the rights and negating the very personhood of Black people. For each of the schools which knowingly legislates and promotes such baseless, immoral and racist policies – parents must duly govern themselves accordingly in making crucial school enrollment decisions. Opting to fight against selected institutional protocols, rather than exposing and then divesting of these unfit institutions, is essentially to pay for own disrespect and subjugation.

Of course, such discriminatory educational policies are assumed, even when not explicitly stated, and strictly enforced – although they violate our identity and humanity as a people. Adding insult to injury and harm, these practices are replicated by larger society in the form of government sanctioned workplace discrimination. As recently as 2016, the 11th Circuit U.S. Federal Appeals Court ruled that employment discrimination is legal against people who wear locks (a popular, natural hairstyle as proudly modeled above in my profile photo, sans makeup, in affirmation of our natural beauty ideal). According to Dr. Kaila Adia Story, Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville, policies of this nature are “racist,” “gender biased,” and “femme-phobic”. In addition, Dr. Story asserted that “to police or punish students of African descent who wish to express their politics, ancestry, and personal style through the adornment and/or styling of their hair in its natural state” is to enforce policies targeting Black people. Though occupying this battlefront is unconscionable in 2018, it is apparent that we must fight on every front, literally every day just to BE Black . . . as such, #EducateToLiberate wishes to remind the entire world that:

#1 – Black people have the agency, self-determination, freedom and right to BE Black in every sense of the word. We should never be expected, forced nor legislated to manipulate our natural beauty to acquiesce to European norms in either schools nor the workplace.

#2 – For the record, natural hairstyles are NOT a fashion statement, but an immutable element of our identity as a people. Therefore, to outlaw our hair in the state in which it naturally grows from our scalps infringes upon our individual freedom to simply exist as people of African descent, and is akin to outlawing us, as a people.

#3 – The pervasive nature upon which institutions devise of ingenious methods to discriminate on the basis of race is increasingly popular and the corresponding impact upon all aspects of American society speaks volumes. Despite the fact that race is merely a social construct conveniently and unevenly applied as a tool in the perpetuation of White supremacist norms, discriminatory school rules and racist policy legislation as tied to our identity, are no less damaging to our psyche as a people.

#4 – Any and all veiled attempts to deny our innate right to agency and our legal rights to autonomously be our Black selves only serve to expose the #Racism, so carefully disguised as dress code policies in an institutionally oppressive society.

Within the unique context of celebrating our Blackness in all of its splendor and glory, we hereby affirm the unadulterated, natural elements of our identity and acknowledge that it is crucial to see ourselves and navigate the world around us in a positive light. Positive self-talk far outweighs the impact of the external standards of conformity imposed upon us; so to the extent that Black men and women unapologetically embrace our melanin, appreciate the unique aesthetics of our beauty and adorn our natural hair in all its forms with increasing pride, we thereby lessen and ultimately eliminate any/all expectations to continually conform to unseemly and unrealistic European standards of beauty. As women, many of us have grown accustomed to compromising our values and even burying our authentic selves in order to be accepted, protected and elevated in society. This is a dangerous, self-deprecating legacy to pass down to future generations. We must continue to affirm our own standards of beauty by celebrating our natural, Black selves to provide an increasing community of support to remind Black girls that their identity is a unique point of pride, not an albatross or component of a dress code which can be successfully banned. When I unapologetically present myself as an accomplished school administrator and/or college professor and embody the fullness of my outer beauty and genius persona as Dr. Nkenge, I always do so in my natural state. For all of my adult life I have proudly worn a wide a variety of natural hairstyles, jewelry and attire and have opted to be my authentic Black self – even when it has been to the chagrin of upper level supervisors (I.E. school superintendents and board members). I encourage all of my sisters to do the same. Kudos to the marketing team of My Black is Beautiful and BET’s Black Girls Rock! for their recent efforts in celebrating and extending the VIP treatment to aforementioned sixth grader, Faith Fennidy, in their valiant attempt to assuage her victimization by the racist school policy demanding her ouster (which has since been rescinded), at Christ the King Elementary School. Ultimately, though the world around us may well persist in offending our sensibilities and criminalizing our Blackness – we must fiercely embrace, love, uplift and defend our standards of natural Black beauty at all costs.

Indeed, “I am not my hair . . . I am the soul that lives within”. – India Arie

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The Permanence of White Privilege

The world watches as White, male privilege is exposed on a judicial committee stage. We collectively bear witness to pompous arrogance, blatant lies, fabricated tears and a very real absence of preparedness for the scrutiny to which the rest of us (the 99%), have grown accustomed. We are neither in awe of nor even mildly amused by the shameful display of poor moral values, criminal behavior and the all-encompassing ineptitude of a veritable poster-child for the educated elite. We observe government policy in action and in our allegiance to pre-disposed components of our identity, we choose sides. Only it’s not about whether one aligns with the #IBelieveSurvivors camp or opts to empathize with the power broker on the hot seat of public judgment, the real star of the show and that which prominently takes center stage is White privilege.

The subtexts of the #MeToo movement and the absolute contradictions apparent in our farce of a legal system are compelling and certainly warrant the depths of public analysis, but these elements are only secondary to the real theme in the courtroom, White privilege. How else can one rationalize that a man educated in some of our nation’s most elite institutions — Georgetown Prep, Yale University, Yale Law School — and one formally credentialed in the legal system, be so corrupt with such ease? The answer lies in the privilege that America affords White males, in particular, and all Whites as a matter of unmitigated fact. This is a form of privilege which operates without ceasing and the rules of which governs American society.

This very public display of White privilege in action, begs the question of how will history regard this period of time? A time when unhinged and immoral White males wield with absolute power, from the Supreme Court to the Oval Office. In America it is apparent that there’s a unique set of rules which apply to Whites. Whites commit crimes with impunity knowing that at best, the laws will protect them and at worst, their privilege ensures them of trivial consequences. In this case, the Senate Judiciary Committee would sooner launch an illusory FBI investigation, rather than abandon their overwhelming intention to confirm a man charged with lewd drunkenness, sexual misconduct and perjury under oath. A man wholly convinced that he will soon secure a lifetime appointment for which he is neither qualified nor morally accountable to assume. This is why even after the announcement of a federal investigation, he recently opted out of his opportunity to teach a course at Harvard next term. Rumor has it, he will be otherwise engaged.

There is perhaps no greater indicator of White privilege than America’s separate but unequal, public educational system which grossly mis-educates the masses of Black and Brown students, representing the increasing majority of those being served. On the contrary, elitist Whites like Brett Kavanaugh inherit generational wealth and despite their academic lack of readiness and/or behavioral misdeeds, they comprise the select number of Ivy League legacies to attend Yale (as did Kavanaugh’s grandfather). So as like-minded, conservative Republicans and a massive White majority continue to rally around this highly rushed and improperly vetted Supreme Court appointment – it is apparent that despite one’s serious lapses in judgment and an inarguable crystal clear portrait of unworthiness . . . White privilege is protected at all costs.

By all accounts, in spite of the credible testimony of Dr. Blasey-Ford and the committee merely biding their time until the speedy “investigation” concludes, we will soon witness the lifetime appointment of a justice (insert the name of any/all privileged White males here), whose only credential is White privilege. Crying Kavanaugh has never even tried a case in court, but because he was hand-picked by yet another White male predecessor (retired justice Anthony Kennedy), and perfectly conforms to the ultra conservative ideal – he will soon ascend to an unearned seat of power. Never mind the circumvention of democracy, the perjury and obstruction of justice on the world stage, White privilege is never on trial nor found guilty. So given that this is Amerikkka and the only constant is the permanence of White supremacy and privilege – in the end, we see through the veil of widespread, genuine concern and scoff at the pretense of a feigned federal investigation, because ultimately we know that (once again), White privilege will prevail.

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How Academic Testing is Racist

“Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies”
~Ibram X. Kendi

The start of a new academic year, brings the promise of high-stakes standardized tests for all students. Educators are duty bound to ensure that our students are prepared to meet the rigors of a wide, unimpressive array of tests by endlessly drilling – the sad, yet telling, 21st Century form of teaching. The annual aftermath of the vicious cycle of standardized testing results in administrators and teachers being deeply disappointed, unfairly maligned and held solely accountable for our students’ annual, less than stellar performance ratings. Just as in life where nothing is certain but death and taxes; in formalized schooling, the only two certainties are testing and mis-education. To opt-out of high-stakes testing is rare. To believe in the accuracy and cogency of these #RacistAF litmus tests of one’s intelligence is at best, naive/clueless and at worst, disingenuous . . . dependent upon the source. We, the people, are collectively at fault for allowing a form of systemic racism, overt classism and oppression to exist and increasingly thrive for centuries. Though many will attest that academic tests are scientific and were uniquely designed to promote objectivity, this is a widespread myth. There is no more fitting portrait of the abject failure of standardized testing to determine one’s intellect and to serve as a weapon of institutionalized oppression than to examine history.

In 1869, Charles Darwin’s cousin, English statistician and pioneer of the western eugenics movement, Francis Galton, hypothesized in Hereditary Genius that “the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own”. As proof of the overarching acceptance of this racist notion, universal college entrance board exams were adopted in 1900 to monitor students’ progress in specific curricular areas, assess American education overall and to complement the wide variety of government policies designed to expressly benefit the elite class of society. In 1904, the French minister of public education tasked noted psychologist, Alfred Binet, with the development of the very first standardized test of intelligence. This was a feat which would eventually be incorporated into a version of the modern IQ test, dubbed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Using a scientific study involving his two adolescent daughters – Binet later refined his theory of intelligence and in collaboration with his doctoral mentee, Theodore Simon, the two created an arbitrary measure of intelligence commonly referred to as the Binet-Simon scale. Even a condensed reference to the troubling history of the racist foundation of academic testing, like the Binet-Simon scale of intelligence, is relevant because it demonstrates the degree to which age-old assessment measures are used to perpetuate centuries-old social stratifications of wealthy, Whites as educated landowners and all other people as interminably oppressed.

Standardized tests are nothing more than arbitrary measures devised using White, female subjects as the norm and are imminently unqualified to assess the absolute undocumented genius of Black and Brown people the world over. In Binet’s own words, he was charged with creating an academic admissions test to regulate the formal inclusion of what he referred to as “subnormals”(also referenced as defective and/or retarded children), in schools after “being subjected to a pedagogical and medical examination from which it could be certified that because of the state of his intelligence, he was unable to profit, in an average measure given in the ordinary schools” (Binet, p.9, 1916). In terms of the non-politically correct and highly offensive terminology used to delineate those deemed to possess lesser intelligence? Binet outlined the use of “idiot as applied to the lowest state, imbecile to the intermediate and moron to the state nearest normality” (Binet, p.9, 1916). To be clear, a state of normalcy was only conferred upon those who comprised (or were deemed in close proximity to), people of European descent. These crude distinctions, though admittedly not understood in the same way by all practitioners, were ascribed to each student’s corresponding academic record of certificates to duly classify one throughout life. Moreover, the varying nomenclatures of the past in combination with the modern-day, vast disparity of academic test performance as driven by race and class – represents the grave imprudence and woeful inaccuracy of intelligence tests. Given Binet’s admitted stance that intelligence testing was limited, subject to variability and was not generalizable, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that the significance that standardized testing wields in the U.S. today, is vital to its function as a weapon to promote and legitimize the insidious myth of White supremacy.

Academic testing, like tracking, was traditionally favored as a means to avoid wasted resources on the race/class deemed unfit or otherwise relegated to servicing the needs of the wealthy, White elite. Thus in 2018, our continued allegiance to and widespread use of traditional academic tests of intelligence; despite evidence to the contrary to prove that they lack both precision and applicability outside of 19th Century, European culture – is an unforgivable crime against all of humanity. Inarguably, standardized test scores highlight only the grave disparities in race and socioeconomic privilege in American society. There can be no uniform method of academic testing devoid of fundamental flaws. By nature, people are as diverse as the day is long. Therefore, arbitrary measures of intelligence, used by either past or modern eugenicists to denote a permanent racial hierarchy are dated, overtly racist and have no place in 21st Century pedagogy. To the extent that colleges have begun to apply the research-based best practice of either diminishing the importance of, or eliminating the power of standardized tests altogether, in their admission decisions is instructive to the whole of society. Furthermore, since a single, standardized measure of intelligence created from the scientific study of the innate genius of Black minds would undoubtedly eradicate all modern illusions of White superiority – then an arbitrary scale derived from the use of White people is equally unacceptable.

Children, adults – ALL people, are innately gifted, uniquely crafted and should never be expected to conform to antiquated, cookie-cutter, standardized images of intelligence. What Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Alfred Binet or Theodore Simon deemed as academically proficient is in fact racist to the core and unfit as a universal metric. Current educational policy reforms must be inclusive of an immediate de-emphasis upon (and the progressive removal of), standardized tests. Any reforms devoid of this non-negotiable, best practice operate only as an exercise in futility. In the interim, the same way that affluent Whites have long opted their own children out of flawed, demeaning and falsely representative standardized testing results – as a means of exercising their privilege and influence – all parents must duly exercise their right to uphold an uncompromising #EducateToLiberate standard of justice and equality by refusing to subject our children to the inhumanity of high-stakes academic tests. After all, the very idea of an achievement gap or even the notion of academic excellence, when based upon the inherently biased gauge of an ACT, SAT or countless other standardized, high stakes assessments are a misnomer. We must comprehensively eschew our dependence upon academic testing as it is a weapon of the racist, elite class to sustain racial hierarchy and universally accepted norms of oppression. Instead, let us commit to truly valuing the immeasurable diversity of all people by affirming our uniquely viable forms of genius in every form. Asé