Style and Substance (or, At Least Three Things You Don’t Say To A Man of Color)

Jose Vilson Jose

Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Moments like this make me want to ask, “Who ASKED you?!”

Some of my frustration lately stems from the perception that making something look easy equates to the task actually being easy.

Especially as it pertains to the site and everything surrounding it. The design, the content, the schedule, the photos, and the accompanying branding come together as pieces to a greater vision, one that hopefully pushes others to also seek success by any means necessary (with the people I represent in mind, of course).

In this plan, however, I always have to anticipate the negative feedback, the hostilities of working in environments where social media is seen as a venue for negative exposure or as a potential threat. As many opportunities as I’ve been afforded in this space, I get that other people prefer I not succeed, that I stay within my space as a teacher, as if teachers, like the children they taught, should be seen and not heard.

Then I have to wonder if it’s a side effect of my race, and people’s own perceptions of what I bring to the table with it.

Here are three things you don’t say to a male educator of color (or any man of color, really):

  • “You don’t always come to school early.”
  • “You already have a leg up because you’re a man of color.”
  • “You look like you need something else to do.”

Let’s forget for a second that I get to school at around 7:15am on average when the school bell rings at 8am. The perception that, as a Black man, I get to work late already tells me more about you than it does about me. You already perceive us as a problem to fix, a glob to mold, or a stereotype to break. As far as I can tell, we’re none of those.

Anytime we get to work early, it’s usually to finish planning lessons, grade student work, or simply get our minds and hearts ready for the day. If we look like we’re not working, chances are that we’re actually working, and you’ve already perceived us as lazy or incompetent. When passionate teachers have a prep, they usually use it to prepare for the next class, to tweak a lesson, or dot all the i’s before they talk to their next period class. That’s how it works.

Furthermore, let us let everyone in on a secret: some of us have learned to distrust anyone who want someone else to communicate more often, especially in non-family situations. The term “snitches get stitches” didn’t come from nowhere, so to speak. Honesty has a price far too high to bear in financial times like these. Also, when people of color jump into the workforce, we have to read a few extra articles about trusting others, using a certain voice, or truncating names for us to fit in or stand out less.

Whether people realize it or not, their perceptions of us keep us from doing the best job possible, like a 21st century glass ceiling.

You’re right, though. Maybe a man of color has a slight advantage in terms of relating to children who identify with us or look like us in the classroom, but that’s never (EVER) a given. Some men of color might deserve the ire of others, especially those who hop on national news espousing views of those who seek to hurt our communities. The men I associate with have to work twice as hard just to stay on top of things.

For, while our jobs with our “customers” remains the same as the next person, the perception against us means we have to do that work twice: once to do it right, twice to disprove the doubters. Assuming responsibility only works when both parties reflect on their own biases.

Hope that helps.

Jose, who realizes this could also apply to women of color, but I prefer a woman of color speak to this …