I located this image as I was surfing for blog elements — as I always do, to provide a humorous and ingratiating hook for the stuff I’m sharing. I was looking for a meme that connects with the content in the piece I’m reblogging below. This one seemed great: it references the now-familiar “cool professor” persona described by Washington State University at Pullman critical/cultural scholar David Leonard.
But after I downloaded it, the meme struck me as relevant in another way as well — it blithely appropriates the identity of a prominent African American rapper and music industry mogul. It does so ironically: the professor is not only white, but presumably much older than the typical hip hop fan, and he’s on a skateboard, a signifier of skater culture not generally associated with Jay-Z’s music. The point seems to be that this guy is doubly cool, in that he is able to seamlessly appropriate divergent threads of pop culture as part of a larger, admirable character. This prof is privileged indeed.
I found Leonard’s post in Vitae provocative and helpful. Unless I am explicitly discussing matters of race, gender, class or culture, I rarely consider my privileged status in the classroom. But this kind of self-reflexivity is important, not just for the benefit of our students but also for the careers of our talented colleagues who do not benefit from the existential privilege of a straight, white male identity. As our current moment finds calls to “check your privilege” as a source of intense cultural debate, this piece is worth your time.
My Life in the Classroom, Where Race Always Matters
May 20, 2014
When you walk into a classroom, what’s your demeanor? Are you approachable, even casual? Or do you favor authority and formality?
Ever since Katrina Gulliver, a professor at University of New South Wales, lamented a “culture of familiarity” in the lecture hall, I’ve been reading professors’ reflections on these questions. Reflections from professors like Will Miller, who pushed back against Gulliver: “I have been known to occasionally teach in clothes that I could mow the lawn in,” he wrote, “and apparently a student or two have at some point said I was cool. That’s not my goal, however.”
I’m a casual dresser, too, but that’s not what struck me about Miller’s essay. What stood out was this line: I may be a white male, but this has nothing to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom.
There’s a lot to digest here. But let me start with this: I am a white male, and that has everything to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom, why I am respected, and how I’m read by students and others. That is my story, and the story of my career within academe.