Respectability Politics and Misogynoir in Education

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My social media timelines have been on fire with the news of Patrice Brown, also know as “#TeacherBae”. Patrice Brown is a paraprofessional in Atlanta whose photos went viral and caused a debate on whether or not her attire is appropriate for her field.

But, in actuality, the true statement should read: “Her body does not fall in line with Euro-centric body standards, therefore it is automatically sexual and wrong.”

Once again, we have stooped to spewing sexism and misogynoir in order to demonize a Black woman for her existence.

Many supporters, including myself, were worried that #TeacherBae would lose her job. We waited patiently for the school system to respond to the social media bonfire.

Yesterday, Atlanta Public Schools released this statement:

“The Atlanta Public Schools shared their employee dress code with 11Alive. It list sexamples of appropriate and inappropriate attire but leaves the determination of violations to the discretion of the administrators for each school.

APS confirmed that Brown was a paraprofessional employed with the district and that she has been “given guidance regarding the APS Employee Dress Code, the use of social media, and Georgia Code of Ethics for educators, and she has been cooperative in addressing her presence on social media.”

Here is a copy of the district’s dress code policy- proof that she did not go against the policy:

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(Also, peep the fact that headwraps are not allowed. Another policy that negatively affects Black women. But that’s another blog post for another time!)

I was relieved to see that #TeacherBae had not been fired, but also worried that this would negatively affect her career in the future. Many supported Patrice Brown, which sparked conversations on how her photos would not have been an issue, had she been the American teacher standard- a thin, white woman.

Check this out:

Below is a photo of Patrice Brown and two other models wearing the same dress:

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I highly doubt that there would be complaints if the other two women were teachers.

While the district was combing through Ms. Brown’s photos, it would have been nice if they focused on this one instead:

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Because despite the fact that statistically, Black women are the most educated in America and account for the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, the only thing that truly matters is our figures and how men (and sometimes other women) respond to them.

 

With all of the talk about #TeacherBae, I couldn’t help but to reflect on my own experiences of misogynoir and body shaming in education.

I snapped this selfie at Starbucks before I went into work at an organization I worked for briefly last year. That same morning, I was scolded because of this outfit (the skirt was knee length and I had on knee high boots, as well).

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The sad part was that I was scolded by another woman. She threw so many respectability politics at me all at once- she wasn’t a fan of my “flamboyant” style, she wasn’t a fan of my clothing choices and deemed them inappropriate to work with high schoolers (she complained that my shirts were too revealing and that my skirts needed to be at the ankle, which was not happening) ….She even complained about my “primping” in the ladies bathroom (on my lunch breaks, mind you. Yes, I touch up my makeup every lunch break!) As an athletic Black woman who stands at 5’7 with 32DD breasts (and was breastfeeding at the time) and inherited my mother’s bum (well, half of it!), it is pretty difficult to conceal any of my curves, regardless of the outfit.

The biggest insult she threw at me was that she thought I was a “Party Girl” and was “wild” (which was interesting because I only talked to two people at work and was a mute the rest of the time- How did she come about such observations through an icebreaker? Maybe it was my earrings). She even suggested that my relationship with my friend, Peter, was inappropriate and sent the wrong message (we had lunch together most days because we had similar interests. Mind you, Peter had a girlfriend who I met, is awesome, and does photographs for me!). To automatically assume that we were “involved” was absolutely disgusting and belittling. Also, I found out through my friend that during the interviews, she was the ONLY one on the panel that DID NOT want to hire me, nitpicking at my resume and experience. She’d wanted to hire a younger white man with minimal experience and no dedication to social justice instead.

I spent many nights brainstorming and trying to come up with reasons why this woman was so critical of me, and only one made sense: “She sees a young Black woman with a vibrant, outgoing personality, which automatically equates me to being promiscuous.” It’s a stereotype as old as time and the proof of it is embedded in our country’s history. Black woman are not allowed to have curves, make friends of the opposite sex, or take pride in our appearance without automatically being labeled as “slutty” and ridiculed (re: Hottentot Venus)

It disgusted me that another woman would display such internalized sexism and be so  critical of my appearance and body shape- especially because her bum was ten times bigger than mine (but of course, she concealed it with ankle length skirts and bulky sweaters-which is her choice!) and so presumptuous about my “lifestyle” (which consists of writing, trying new recipes, picking gum out of my son’s hair, reading Berenstein Bear books, and late night “Golden Girls” marathons- not parties)

Misogynoir is always unfortunate and hard to stomach, but it is especially hurtful when your breast and butt size speaks louder than your resume and dedication to youth does.

Recently, I read an article on Mother Jones discussing the fact that there are hardly any Black female teachers left (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/09/black-teachers-public-schools-education-system-philadelphia)

I think the #TeacherBae incident is a prime example of why that has become the case. We’re tired.

Out In Front Orientation

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This past week, I attended the Out In Front Fellowship Orientation. ( Out in Front is a fellowship that strives to elevate the voices of LGBTQ individuals in the Seattle are and mold community leaders. Check out their website here: http://www.outinfrontseattle.org/)

For homework before our Retreat next week, we were given copies of the book, “Strengths Based Leadership” by Tom Rath and were assigned to take the accompanying assessment to pinpoint our top five strengths.  Since accepting my position at Keithley Middle School, I have been very interested in becoming more self-aware- so this assignment was a welcomed one!

Here are my results from the quiz:

DELIBERATIVE

Driven by your talents, you generally present yourself to others as a no-nonsense person. People
soon figure out you prefer to work or study by yourself. It’s very likely that you often are described as
an industrious, no-nonsense person. When you have a goal, you aim to reach it. When you have a
problem to solve, you first break it into parts. When you have a major decision to make, you study all
the facts from a variety of angles. Chances are good that you are a no-nonsense person. This
explains why you spend time thinking about things you could and should review, revise, repair,
reorganize, or do better. Because of your strengths, you are highly selective about how much you
reveal to anyone about your history, future intentions, or current affairs. Consistently you refrain from
intruding on people’s privacy. Why? You realize this puts you in the position of being asked and
expected to answer very personal questions. Typically you let others begin conversations. This is not
your forte — that is, strong point. Perhaps you are content just to listen and observe. You probably
prefer to keep your thoughts to yourself. By nature, you are a reserved individual. You usually keep
personal matters to yourself. This is apt to explain why you are much more comfortable launching
projects than you are talking about your experiences and accomplishments.
CONTEXT
It’s very likely that you regularly expand your knowledge base. You aim to deepen your expertise
about historic rivalries and global influences that ignited major wars. By nature, you enjoy having
opportunities to think with people who reflect on past events. Why? They can relay — that is, pass
along — information that helps you put the words and deeds of people in their proper perspective.
Because of your strengths, you gravitate to people who love to think about and talk about the past.
Your taste in books and other written materials often leads you to the history sections of bookstores,
libraries, or Internet sites. Your passion for reading about humankind’s ever-unfolding story allows you
to feel quite comfortable in the presence of knowledgeable historians. Driven by your talents, you are
quite intrigued by history’s significant events and people. Information about global conflicts fascinates
you. Instinctively, you usually turn to historians for information about the past. You consciously narrow
your quest for knowledge to precise topics or eras.
INPUT
By nature, you are drawn to the process of gaining knowledge and skills. You long to build on what
you already know. You yearn to improve on what you already can do. When you meet people who
value education as much as you do, you are eager to hear about their personal or professional ambitions, intentions, or goals. Understanding what others aim to accomplish in the coming weeks,
months, or years can be the beginning of a practical partnership or an enduring friendship. Driven by
your talents, you continually sharpen your methods for adding new words to your everyday vocabulary
as well as your academic or professional vocabulary. You frequently use sophisticated terminology to
make sure people who are well-educated about a topic or an issue really listen to what you say. It’s
very likely that you enjoy being well-read. Not surprisingly, you can introduce more questions,
suggestions, solutions, or innovative ideas into group conversations than most participants can.
Instinctively, you are the type of person who maps out trips, projects, or agendas well ahead of time.
Your detailed preparation usually involves a lot of reading. Fortunately, you devour the printed word
with the same passion that someone heartily interested in food savors a delicious meal. Chances are
good that you probably enjoy reading self-improvement books. Tips, exercises, suggestions,
questions, or resource lists tend to capture your interest when the topic aligns with your needs. Using
the information you collect, you frequently concentrate your mental and physical energy on performing
a task or using a skill better than you ever have in the past.
STRATEGIC
By nature, you have acquired valuable skills and knowledge. You spend time considering numerous
courses of action before choosing one. You invent original and innovative techniques for dealing with
expected and unexpected challenges. You use the same approach to take advantage of promising
opportunities. It’s very likely that you usually identify problems others fail to notice. You repeatedly
create solutions and find the right answers. You yearn to improve things about yourself, other people,
or situations. You are drawn to classes, books, or activities that promise to give you the skills and
knowledge you seek. Driven by your talents, you customarily pinpoint the core problems and identify
the best solutions. You artfully and skillfully eliminate distractions. This helps people gain a clear
understanding of what is happening and why it is happening. You frequently identify ways to transform
an obstacle into an opportunity. Chances are good that you can design innovative plans. You
probably raise issues and identify recurring obstacles as you generate tactical options. Problems and
possible solutions become apparent to you. Once you outline action steps, you quickly execute them
one by one. You refuse to waste time questioning your ideas after everything has been set into
motion. Because of your strengths, you work diligently to invent alternative courses of action. You
notice new as well as unusual configurations in facts, evidence, or data. Others, however, can see
only separate, unrelated bits of information. You are fascinated by problems that puzzle, confound, or
frustrate most people.
LEARNER
Driven by your talents, you are motivated to continually acquire knowledge and skills. Discovering
new ways to use your talents energizes you. You are likely to escape from situations and avoid
people who want you to keep doing what you already know how to do well. Maintaining an intellectual
status quo is unacceptable to you. Instinctively, you value education and scholarship at any level and
at any age. Your thirst for knowledge causes you to explore many topics of study or specialize in one
particular subject. You thoroughly enjoy opportunities to acquire additional information, skills, and experiences. It’s very likely that you enjoy pondering what you can revise, correct, renovate, upgrade,
or relocate. When you are curious about a person, event, topic, project, activity, or idea, you devote
much energy and time to studying it. Because of your strengths, you desire to take in additional facts,
data, or background information. These insights probably permit you to assist others whenever the
opportunity presents itself. Chances are good that you channel your efforts into the task at hand. You
persevere until you have gained the knowledge and skills needed to attain a goal. You can toil for
many hours to secure your objective. You probably work hardest and most productively at a particular time of day.
Me being me, I explored the rest of Gallup’s website and also took the Positive Impact Quiz. Here are my results:

Positive Impact Report

Your score on the Positive Impact Test is:

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Your Positive Impact Test score is a percentile ranking that can range from 0 to 98. This type of score compares your responses to those of a reference group. For example, if your score is 80, you scored higher than 80% of the individuals in the reference group.

The reference group that your score is compared to is made up of respondents to a Gallup Poll of 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and over. The poll was conducted June 3-8, 2003 and has a margin of sampling error of ±3 percentage points. (To learn more about how Gallup Polls are conducted, visit http://www.gallup.com.)

What does this score mean?

Your score indicates how much bucket filling you do compared to others. To determine the level of positive impact you have on your environment, see how your score corresponds to the impact levels below. Don’t be concerned if your score is low at first. This assessment was designed to provide you with a measure for continuous improvement. Take the Positive Impact Test again in a few months — or as often as you like — to see if your score has improved.

What else can I do?

Consider printing the Positive Impact Test statements, and use them as your guide for increasing your positive impact. Invite your friends to take the Positive Impact Test to see how your score compares to theirs.

Low Impact (0-26)

Although you might not be actively bucket dipping — taking from others’ positive emotion — you probably are not doing much to make things better.

The good news is that you have ample room for improvement. There are countless things you can do to improve your score and boost the positive emotions in your environment. With a little effort, you can change your behavior dramatically.

Some Impact (27-84)

Even though you are doing some things to improve positive emotion in your environment, you can do more. When you interact with others, you sometimes fill their buckets. Why not work toward filling their buckets most of the time?

Think about ways to fill someone else’s bucket. Can you start doing some of these things right away? What can you do every day that would fill at least one person’s bucket?

High Impact (85-98)

Congratulations! You are making a major difference. When you interact with friends, family members, and colleagues, you fill their buckets. And when you fill their buckets, you inspire them to fill someone else’s bucket.

The impact from your top-notch bucket filling goes further than you may realize. Remain vigilant, and always look for new ways to increase positive emotion. Others will look to you and follow your lead.

Throughout these exercises, I’ve come to realize how important it is to identify one’s strengths and weakness and to develop a plan to improve them.  Being self-aware is the first step in becoming an effective leader! I encourage everyone, regardless of their field, to explore Rath’s books and quizzes.

 

Breastfeeding On A Budget!

During my previous AmeriCorps service term, I was a breastfeeding mother with a busy schedule and a limited budget. (It’s the nature of the AmeriCorps beast!)  For a Nutrition class, I developed an informative presentation on my work as a Food Access Coordinator and how I utilized community resources to ensure that my nutritional needs were met without breaking the bank!

Many working mothers are low-income and are struggling to balance breastfeeding and budgeting. If you or other mothers may benefit from this resource, check out the presentation below and share within your network(s)!

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Surviving Emotionally, Financially, Physically, and Mentally as an AmeriCorps VISTA and Single Mother By Takeallah Rivera

I wrote this piece during my AmeriCorps VISTA term in Seattle, Washington. Years later, I still use most, if not all, of the tips written here and hope that they are useful to others who have children and are serving as AmeriCorps servicemembers in their community! 

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AmeriCorps VISTA is an anti-poverty program established by Lyndon B. Johnson and his “Economic Opportunity Act” of 1964. As an AmeriCorps VISTA at Rainier Valley Food Bank, my overall duty is to fight the war on poverty through volunteer mobilization and resource development, all while learning valuable employment skills for the future. For struggling millennials and college graduates, serving as a VISTA is one of the few job opportunities to offer a steady income, health benefits, and life insurance. As a single mother of a 14-month old, I have always longed to serve as a VISTA, but felt as though the low wages would prohibit me from doing so. However, after interning at five different organizations and failing to find gainful employment after the birth of my son, I decided to take a chance as a VISTA! Serving as a VISTA and being a single mother simultaneously is a trying task, but I have developed ways to make it work for us!

1. Utilize Community Resources! As a VISTA, there is an array of resources readily available to assist you throughout your service term! When I began my service term, I applied for housing assistance, Washington Apple Health, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Benefits, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Food Assistance, and TANF (Temporary Assistance For Need Families.) allowances. One perk of serving as a VISTA at a food bank is unlimited access to food and other supplies! I rarely spend money on my lunch- I simply grab a salad or fruit out of the cooler at work! Also, I am able to access cat litter, cat food, flea and tick medicine, and toys for my cats, Jellybean and Louis, as well as diapers, wipes, and snacks for my son, Jimi. As a participant of the Nurse Family Partnership program since my pregnancy, I am given the privilege of visiting with a Pediatric Nurse bi-weekly, who also supplies my son with essentials, such as clothing, developmentally appropriate toys, and diapers. For my electronic needs, I acquired a laptop for $99 and a year of unlimited internet service for $120 through “Interconnection.” I even managed to get a bicycle, helmet, and bike lock for $10 through a local organization called “Bike Works”, that specifically serves low-income individuals. Most of all, through my relationships with my co-workers and volunteers at the food bank, I have resources for any miscellaneous item I may need, such as a hand-me-down winter coat for my son, and babysitters for when I have important errands to run, am working late, or just simply need to rest and recharge.

2. Budget, Budget, Budget! As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I am paid a total of $480 every two weeks, after taxes. Due to our low wages, AmeriCorps VISTAS are automatically eligible to receive TANF (if they have children) and SNAP benefits. In total, my monthly income is $1,692, which is not much for a family of two in Seattle. Therefore, strict budgeting is crucial to my survival as a VISTA and single mother. During the start of my service term, I purchased a small notebook and budgeted my income based on housing, internet, insurance, telephone, daycare, food, and miscellaneous expenses. At the start of every month, I review my budget, make any necessary changes, and track my spending for the previous month and log it into an Excel spreadsheet. I am especially cautious about my food purchases. In shopping preparation, I make a grocery list before every grocery store trip and strictly abide by the list (to avoid spontaneous “Ooh, that looks good!” purchases). After all of the necessities are purchased, if there is money available, I utilize a portion of it for “Ooh, that looks good!” purchases, such as candy, cupcakes, and chocolates.

3. Do-It-Yourself Being an AmeriCorps VISTA and single mother is the perfect time to become a so-it-yourselfer! Through reading and online research, I have learned to make my own laundry detergent, soap, shampoo and conditioner, cough syrup, and other essentials, which saves hundreds of dollars a month! I also do my own manicures, pedicures, and hairstyling, which is an excellent option to expensive salon visits.

4. Become friends with The Goodwill and The Dollar Tree! The Goodwill, The Dollar Tree, and I are not only friends, we’re life partners! Combined, these two stores have everything my son and I need, and at a low-cost! The Goodwill supplies us with quality clothing, shoes, books, DVDs, and age-appropriate toys for my son, while The Dollar Tree secures cleaning products, office supplies, personal hygiene products, and food. On a regular basis, I take only $30 and shop at Dollar Tree for toilet paper, medicine, baby wipes, toys for my son, and makeup and hygiene products. Dollar Tree even sells organic cough syrup for toddlers! With occasional exceptions, I do not shop anywhere else for our necessities! (Photos of a recent Goodwill haul for myself and my son. I spent approximately $60 dollars!)

5. Prioritize Self-Care! With the day-to-day pressures of constantly serving others, it is very easy to place personal needs on the back burner. Since I serve at my site Tuesdays-Saturdays, I declared Mondays, “Me-Time Mondays.” I take my son to daycare, disconnect from the internet and my cell phone, take walks in nature, do some yoga, read, and sleep! Taking Mondays to myself plays a huge role in being emotionally, physically, and mentally able to keep up with my busy schedule. I also carve out room in my budget for movies, trips to the children’s museum, aquarium, and zoo for my son and I, purchasing books and DVDs, a monthly professional manicure and pedicure, and occasional yummy take-out food and drinks. (Photos I have taken during my “Me-Time Mondays.” During this time I spend alone, I discovered that I have an interest in photography!)

6. Get Moving! Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA and parent full-time can be extremely exhausting, but it is important to maintain a regular exercise routine for health and happiness. Taking a daily walk around the neighborhood on my lunch break, practicing yoga, and bicycling around Seattle have proven to be stress-relieving activities that keep me energized and motivated to do my jobs as a VISTA and mother. When I am not in the mood to be outdoors or leave my home, I connect to YouTube and do some weight-lifting and yoga exercises from there. Purchasing weights is unnecessary because I have a 30 pound toddler I can lift! Plus, this makes for excellent Mommy/Son playtime!

7. Plan Ahead! I won’t be a VISTA forever, so upon completion of PSO (Pre-Service Orientation), I began brainstorming about my next career move. In my spare time, I research various graduate programs, intern at Women, Action, and Media (WAM!), do freelance writing, volunteer at various organizations, and develop my doula business, Having my hat in different rings gives me the confidence and connections I need to easily transition into the next phase of my career. Also, utilizing the regularly scheduled AmeriCorps VISTA webinars has proven to be a great tool in helping plan my life after AmeriCorps! Through my tireless efforts, I have proven to myself and to others that being a VISTA and a single mother is, indeed, possible. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to improve the lives of others, improve my life, learn valuable employment skills, and interact with open-minded, highly educated individuals. If you are considering serving as a VISTA, but are having reservations, fear no more! It’s doable, and a life-altering opportunity!

Poverty Simulation

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During my first day as a College Access Coordinator, The Center For Community Engagement and Service at PLU hosted a Poverty Simulation, using Missouri Community Action Network’s Poverty Simulation kit (Learn more about the organization and the kit here: http://www.povertysimulation.net/).  The  participants of the poverty simulation were Franklin Pierce School District teachers, who were participating to gain a greater understanding of the hardships that many of their students were facing at home. In the Poverty Simulation, participants are divided into families, given a packet containing their circumstances (how many children are in the family, monthly income, housing situation, etc.), as well as prompts which directs them to various social services organizations (utility companies, pawn shops, banks, Department of Social Services, etc.) The activity is divided into four sessions, where each “family” is given different circumstances each session.

As a facilitator, I was in charge of the Utility Company and accepted payments, issued statements, and suspended utility services.  As I sat back and observed the participants, I noticed that during the first two sessions, many of the participants were viewing the activity as a game- laughing, skipping around the gym, and even cracking poverty jokes (which caused me to side eye many of them). I was honestly floored by the privilege oozing from the educators as they skipped across the gym in Northface gear with BMW keys jingling in their pockets.  As a person who has experienced poverty, as well as work with individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty,  I noticed that I had begun to get irritated with many of the participants who were mocking the activity ,which caused me to slam the hammer down on them even more to get the point of the activity across (I was not lenient with payment arrangements with these individuals, gave cut-off notices without warning, and did not honor the payments of these individuals if they did not ask for a receipt) However, after the second session of the activity, many “eviction notices” and “cut-off notices” began to be issued, and I noticed that the laughter had begun to turn into frustrating sighs and groans. By the fourth session of the activity, I even noticed that many participants were having panic attacks.

“It isn’t so funny now, is it? Welcome to poverty!” I thought to myself. I thought about how many students in this district came to school hungry because their families benefits were cut, how many students came to school and couldn’t complete their homework the night before because their utilities were turned off, and how many students had to skip school to babysit for their parents because DSHS Childcare benefits were nixed and their parents not working is not an option. – and their instructors initially thought that it was a joke. This made me issue even more cut-off notices to the participants.

During our debrief, we went around the room to discuss our observations and opinions on the exercise.  Many of the educators who mocked the activity in the beginning shared that they were floored by the many barriers that families in poverty face. Listening to the testimonies of the participants motivated me to continue to call out priviliges, check my own privileges, and continue to adovcate for social change for the benefit of marginalized groups- especially Black and Brown  and low-income youth.