Sweet baby Jesus.
It took me a minute to shake the tomfoolery that went down last month when a high school teacher—one in the lily white sticks of Lumpkin County, GA, no less—dressed up four of her students in KKK outfits and paraded them through the school lunch room on her way to teach a “history” lesson about racism. The teacher gave a “my bad,” and the school slapped her with some sensitivity training and so, you know, all the little Negro children who may have genuinely been offended/surprised/frightened by what looked like a gathering of the homegrown terrorist organization that systematically lynched, raped, tortured and murdered African Americans, needed to, like, hurry up and get the eff over it.
And now, THIS from The Seattle Times: A third-grade teacher kicked an 8-year-old black girl—the only brown baby in the advanced placement class—out of the classroom because the Organics Olive Oil Hair Moisturizing Lotion her mom uses on her natural hair made the teacher, who allegedly has allergy issues, want to vomit and faint. Yup, you read that right: The smell of the baby's afro made the teacher throw up a little in her mouth and almost pass out.
DEAD FISH EYES.
Hold up, though—it gets better: After the teacher, a 3rd grade instructor at the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School (isn't the irony of the name of the school just delicious?) pulled the baby from the class and had her sit out in the hallway, she sent the girl to another non-gifted classroom full of black students, and then refused to respond to the parents when they questioned what was up with all of that.
Now, the parents are in a tizzy and won't let their kid go back to school (with good damn reason); the NAACP and lawyers are involved; and the school district, citing the lawsuit, has zipped its collective lips on the issue, except to say that they're positive the teacher's actions weren't racially motivated.
Now, I'm all kumbaya on the teacher having allergies or sensitivities to smells or whatever. And a little web investigation revealed that the teacher handed out letters in the beginning of the year explaining the sensitivity and asking the parents not to send their kids into the classroom smelling any kinda ways, lest the teacher suffer an attack. But er, um, you mean to tell me the only way this adult—this teacher who is responsible not only for molding students' minds but also their emotional and mental well-being, no matter their size, skin color, sexual orientation, looks, hairstyles, and, yes, smells—could keep from throwing up and fainting was to a) single out the one black child in the class; b) tell her she stinks in front of said class; c) banish her from the gifted class to one that is educationally inferior to the one in which she was placed (Lord, this alone is worth a whole 'nother post), and; d) refuse to give the parents a head's up or return emails and phone calls to explain?
I mean, come on, son—really?
I'm the mother of an 8-year-old, 11-year-old, and 17-year-old, and they regularly assault my wolf nose with the funk of a 1,000 years—stank, deodorant-less armpits, farts, sweaty shin guards and soccer cleats, shard-filled underwear, Cheetos-induced exorcist vomit slicks, head-to-toe Tag body spray spills you can smell a quarter mile away. And those are just my three. I can only imagine how gross a class of 30 or more 8-year-olds must be, with their sweaty, playground bodies and their stinky peanut butter and banana lunches and their sparkly, strawberry sour pucker lip glosses and their "I just forgot to brush my teeth this past week" morning breath.
Simply put: Kids smell. Moms and teachers alike have to put up with it.
And feign as much ignorance about it as you want to, but moisturizer to natural black girl hair is like water is to the human body: We have to have it or our hair dies. And sometimes, that moisturizer's got a little something in it to make your hair smell nice.
And if a teacher can't handle normal, average, everyday kid smells (scratching my head trying to figure out how the teacher keeps from fainting and vomiting at the grocery store, on the bus, at the mall, in church...) and the fragrance of a little girl's afro puffs, well then maybe said teacher needs to find a new damn job instead of kicking smart little black girls with afros out of the smart kid class and refusing to explain what's up to her parents, leaving the parents to make a federal case out of it.
And make a federal case out of it, they must. Because the damage caused to that little girl, a black child already charged with having to fit in to a class full of kids who don't look like her, could be irreparable if the parents aren't standing up, speaking out, and talking to that baby about how special she and her natural hair—the hair God gave her—is, no matter the reaction her insensitive, dummy of a teacher has to it. No matter how many people stand at the ready to question why she wears it that way and why she doesn't just pull a hot comb or some relaxer through it.
Are these teachers—the "Let's play dress up in KKK robes" one and the "I faint at the slightest whiff of afro juice" racist? I don't think so. But they're both ignorant as hell, and inexcusably insensitive to the students and parents who do not look like them. And they absolutely do not deserve a pass for the foolishness. Two snaps up and a twist to the reader who left this brilliant comment at the end of THIS PIECE written by the little girl's father:
It's unlikely this teacher was thinking about the significance and connotations of hair -- and that's because for her, as a member of the "default" racial group, hair doesn't have significance and connotation. She has the luxury of having "default" hair; she has the luxury of never feeling singled out or racially defined by her hair. Does this mean she's off the hook, because she didn't know or because it didn't occur to her? Can the racial connotations of a white teacher singling out a student of color by making an issue of her hair be dismissed? Absolutely not. White people plead ignorance all the time for things like this: "I wasn't being racist when I said/did that -- I just didn't know any better. I didn't know that was offensive."
Well, I think that's pretty weak (I'm white; I kind of think it's my own damn responsibility to be as conscious of the role race plays in our society as everyone else, who is being fucked over by it, is). Race is an issue in this story the way it is more and more frequently in America -- not because of an overt act of aggression, but because of a passive act of inconsideration.