diversity Archives - The Jose Vilson


2013 American Music Awards - Backstage And Audience

Rihanna at the AMAs

In the hood, I’ve seen girls and women rock doobie wraps to tuck in a hairstyle they’ll show off the next day. It’s akin to wearing rollers or, for guys, wearing a doo-rag before gelling their waves. As someone who doesn’t have much hair, I always smirked at the doobie, a rather creative and neat way of keeping a woman’s hair tucked in before a big party or a graduation. Even to this day, I see some of my girls wear doobies on the day of the prom, with black bobbi pins glistening with the classroom light.

Yet, the doobie wrap became the hot topic of the day because Rihanna, pop ultrastar, decided to break the “code” of wearing a non-hairstyle out to an awards show with a studded pin to boot. I didn’t think it was that big a deal, especially since I see women wearing it in public so often. A neatly-placed doobie to an awards show is a natural progression in hair style, akin to how a few rappers have worn doo-rags to similar awards shows. Yet, men don’t get the same type of attention women do for their hair choices, or the heightened blowback if someone sees a fashion faux-pas.

This conversation extended into classroom today when Vanessa VanDyke, a student at Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, FL, was given an ultimatum: fix your hair or leave our school.

Legally, this school can do whatever it wants in the way of conduct or grooming, it seems, including hairstyles and the like. Their code of conduct has a broad brush of unacceptable hairstyles “that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.” Parents who take their children to private school, religious or otherwise, know that they’re not just sending their child to a presumably elite school, but also buying into the culture and status of the school. For children of color entering into predominantly White schools, this means they are often asked to assimilate to a greater extent to the predominant culture and their ways.

Having said that, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it legit.

What really got me about the article was this tidbit here:

VanDyke said she’s had her large, natural hair all year long, but it only became an issue after the family complained about students teasing her about her hair.

“There have been bullies in the school,” said Kent. “There have been people teasing her about her hair, and it seems to me that they’re blaming her.”

“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” said VanDyke.

So, administrators are complicit in the bullying of a young Black girl? If I read that right, and if administrators only told her to change her hair because bullies pushed their buttons to do so, then the administrators are no better than the bullies. Sadly, I keep seeing stories about girls and their hair, hoping someone will actually get it right. Instead, schools have been asked to impose a ridiculous grooming code concerning the hair that grows naturally out of a girl’s hair.

As a teacher, I have a duty to judge someone’s look to an extent. I still think of Nixzmary Brown and how her murder could have been prevented if people had noticed the signs of her abuse early. If I have concerns about a child’s hygiene or change of appearance for legitimate reasons, we have protocols in place, none of which prevent the child from being their best selves.

My job, however, isn’t to teach for appearance. It’s to keep my door open, despite and because of how they look. Too many of us misplace our “caring” by making sure everyone looks the same, acts the same, or speaks the same. Yet, as Vanessa VanDyke proves, we should do our best to accept all children because of their differences and accept that all people may come in different shapes and colors.

As Bill Ivey said on my page, “And third, how good she looks is utterly beside the point. It’s her appearance, her choice. End of story.” Rihanna can have her doobie. I’ll get my shape-up. She’ll leave her hair natural. We’re all fully human. Let’s do better.


*** photo c/o http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/25/rihanna-hair-ama-doobie-wrap_n_4336889.html ***


Bowl of Cocoa Puffs

Bowl of Cocoa Puffs

In high school, my family used to get assorted flavors of high-sugar cereals. Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Corn Pops frequented the top of my fridge, and every morning, my brother and I would have a huge bowl of them just because. We’d pour so much milk into our bowls that we bought a gallon of milk every week (I later learned this wasn’t considered normal). When we found the magical crunch of chocolate cocoa puffs, we dug in. We’d have a bowl for breakfast, and a bowl on Friday and Saturday nights, just to hold us over during our midnight video game marathons.

One morning, as I started eating my puffs, I started to reflect on my experience in high school with serious doubt after an incident that made me keenly aware of my skin color and social caste in the school. The teacher at the time, revered by all, made it obvious that he didn’t think I belonged in the honors class. The looks on the other students in the class (all white) signaled to me that perhaps complaining about the incident would be like barking up the wrong tree. Some laughed uncomfortably while others stood silent, hoping it would go away.

Once I snapped out, I noticed a little chocolate puff floating in this big bowl of milk, bobbing up and down as it sailed around the inner rim. My first real understanding of W.E.B. DuBois’ double consciousness.

Currently, a group of concerned advocacy groups including the NAACP, Latino Justice PRLDEF, and the Center for Law and Justice at Medgar Evers College, filed a complaint against Stuyvesant High School’s (and New York City Department of Education’s) use of a specialized high school exam as the sole determinant for entry into their school. I’m inclined to disagree with Mike Bloomberg’s contention that having a test is the same as basing a student’s entry on merit. As with any standardized test, institutions should take into account the sheer volume of preparation some parents undertake in order to make sure their student succeeds on those, and lots of that can be predicted economically.

In spaces where one measure coincidentally attracted only a couple of groups towards a place of prestige, we need to make sure all kids get a fair look.

More importantly, once schools like Stuyvesant address the diversity in their admissions process, then they’ll have to address what happens once the few who make it do get in there. Other such schools that require multiple measures, like interviews, grades, and teacher recommendation letters, at least give a shot to those who freeze up for those two hours of the special admissions test. Despite whatever impressions my friends and family had about my experience in high school, make no mistake: it was hard. Academically, I handled school rather well my first two years there, then proceeded to dip my junior and senior years as my teachers demanded more. Socially, I joined as many non-athletic clubs as I could and volunteered at my middle school just to keep me grounded.

But, the more “H”s and “AP”s I saw next to my class schedules, the less I saw less of “me”s.

In order to adopt, I had to assimilate to some of the traditions and linguistics my friends had. My r’s became flatter, my s’ sharper, my t’s enunciated. Frankly, without my friends who moved up with me to this school, I might have completely lost touch with the very community I represented. Thus, people like me, unbeknownst to us develop two identities, one that can shift their faces amongst the hoods and the baggy jeans, and the other with shaven face and proper collar.

What becomes of these unique intelligent ones once they go into predominantly White classrooms?

I do get it, too. My high school prepared me for the rigors of Syracuse University, where Dave Chappelle once joked “When I looked down [from the plane], all I saw was White … and then there was the snow.” At this stage of the game, going to a truly academically rigorous school often means going to a place with very little cultural diversity, a sad state indeed. Few schools have a good, balanced student body and high academic standards that consistently challenge students … with a staff that knows how to handle it appropriately. Even then, sometimes the groups just stick in their racial and cultural groups with a few tokens on either side.

As I stared at the bowl with the floating puff, I noticed that the bowl of milk had also gotten a chocolate flavor as a result of the puffs that once floated there. Once we dedicate ourselves to adding more puffs, we leave an indelible mark on each other. We might work well in isolation, but we work much better when we complement each other as a whole.

Jose, who switched to Special K and Honey Nut Cheerios a long time ago …


First, read this article. Check this excerpt:

Since she took over at the university seven years ago, the institution has spent tens of millions of dollars—and attracted much more—to revitalize this sagging Rust Belt city. It has helped refurbish parks, taken over an abandoned building where drug dealers once grew marijuana, and turned an old furniture warehouse into a new home for academic programs in art, drama, and fashion design. The university is encouraging professors to focus their research on the city, while giving free tuition to local high-school graduates.

Ms. Cantor talks about the institution as a “public good,” not an ivory tower. But some professors here say she has spent too little time and money on what goes on inside the university’s classrooms, laboratories, and libraries where traditional education and scholarship take place. Before she came, they say, Syracuse was on the way to becoming a more selective university that competed with some of the nation’s best private urban institutions. Now, the chancellor seems most intent on providing opportunities—both for this struggling city and for disadvantaged students. As a result, Syracuse is fading on the national stage, falling in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of national universities and dropping out—before it could be forced out—of the prestigious Association of American Universities, whose members are considered the nation’s top research institutions.

After reading the article, I thought: “So, let me get this straight. Syracuse University recruits from the same SAT scores, recruit from the same top of the class, builds more infrastructure, develops an amazing experiential relationship with the surrounding city, and doubles the percent of students of color, and the standards are somehow lowered? I know I’m a bit biased, but Nancy Cantor has done amazing work to ensure that Syracuse as an institution has lots more integrity in how it achieves high standards and diversity. Yes, I can highlight the -ahem- difficulties with claiming that caring more about the surrounding urban areas and issues of inclusion lead to a decrease in the academic quality of the institution, but I’d rather just stand behind those who continue to empower those who believe in quality higher education for all.”


Mr. Vilson, who is working in all aspects of education …


The Token’s Worth More Than You Bargained For

August 12, 2010 Jose
Fuck That Shit

My favorite part about the GE Futures in Education Conference in Orlando wasn’t the wonderful 85+ degree weather, the beautiful accommodations (including free wi-fi), or even the wonderful speakers ranging from Jon Saphier and Robert Marzano to Ron Ferguson and David Jackson. It was my eclectic crew of math and science teachers who I broke […]

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