When I was in high school, I was an officer on the dance team. We had strict requirements to adhere to regarding appearance. One of those requirements was that we all had to wear the exact same color of tights for performances “flesh tone” rose. Our director was adamant that our legs had to be “uniform” which meant that regardless of skin tone, every girl had rose colored legs. She said that it created a visual feel of one single unit…that we were all the same. She defended her decision by saying that she didn’t see race and that all dance teams wore the same attire. Yeah…ok.
I remember my mother, along with a few mothers of other black girls on the line, fighting to allow us to purchase tights that matched our own skin tones. They were denied. If we wanted to dance, we had to wear the tights…and so we did. It was an odd thing to be embarrassed about the color of my legs when I was so proud of the color of my skin.
I think that this is where my mother coined her famous Friday night phrase…
“Smile baby! Act like you own the place!”
In those moments, I didn’t think about the tights, my rose legs or the embarrassment of them both. I thought of smiling for my mother and the little girls that stood along the rails watching me…looking like me…and wanting to be me…tights and all.
Learning through a Rose Colored Lens
I thought of this story after I read Jose Vilson’s piece, “Your Kids Don’t Actually Feel Like They Belong Afterall“. Day after day, I watch conversations that place kids in a box of the same unit. Yes, kids are kids and learning is learning but they are different and to deny that is denying them to be them.
I thought about culturally responsive teaching which is actually a gradable component on many educator evaluations. It’s not about changing a few names in a word problem to be more “cultural sounding”. It most certainly isn’t about including specific stereotypical moments in a lesson either. (saw a math lesson last year about a gangster getting arrested…yep…it happened) It’s about making sure that the experiences and perspectives of students are a purposeful and integral part of learning.
My mother taught me that the tights were like a mask, shielding who we were from our teacher, as she was unwilling to see. She taught me that small minded people could not define who I was and if I had to dance in purple tights, I’d still own it.
I was lucky in having my mother…someone to instill a sense of self-worth in me. Let’s hope that the rest of our kids have that too.