Thursday, April 26, 2007

Soundtrack for crusading white girls

Any white girl from the granola suburbs of New Hampshire who says she doesn't hear the Coolio track from "Dangerous Minds" playing in her head when she walks through the doors of that urban high school (built in the early-Golden Era "Comprehensive" style) is lying. You can say: "I don't subscribe to those stereotypes. They just get delivered to my mailbox with the junk mail and the notices that more sex offenders are moving into my neighborhood." But you're the target market. I'm the target market. I'm "that girl."

So when I walked through the aforementioned doors, I was engrossed with worry that stereotypes of "inner city school kids" would affect my perception of the students. But it didn't even occur to me that stereotypes would also affect the kids' perception of me. Turns out stereotypes are more progressively equal-opportunity than most federal jobs.

It started the moment I introduced myself as "Miss Brown," and a kindergartener said adorably, "You're not Miss Brown. You're miss white." Soon the kids were following me around going, "cool!" "totally!" "OK!" "whatever!" "awesome!" They were calling me Cinderella and singing the Barbie song. And I, who had always considered myself a serious, articulate brunette, found myself asking friends, "Does my hair look blonde to you?" "Do I sound like an airhead on my voicemail?"

Of course the stereotype of the white blonde bimbo hasn't had a debilitating affect on my perception of myself, my job opportunities, etc. I'm not claiming to be the victim here. But the experience taught me how far I have to go in terms of shaking off whiteness. Because I was thinking people of color were the only ones who get stereotyped. Oooops.

Flashback to the first time I watched the Original Kings of Comedy, and I had to watch it with subtitles. And I heard the comedians doing impressions of white people, and I suddenly realized that being white was its own thing, with its own way of walking, talking, dressing, thinking. It wasn't monolithic, but it was whiteness, it wasn't just normalcy. But apparently that's a lesson that Bernie Mac and the "inner city school kids" will have to teach me over and over and over.

So I don't have a solution to these problems yet, but what I do have a is a playlist for white student teachers in the city so they don't have to hum Gangsta's Paradise anymore. Deconstruct them for yourselves. Decoder ring not included.
  • De La Soul: Ghetto Thang: "Lies are pointed strong into your skull/Deep within your brain against the wall/To hide or just erase the glowing note/Of how to use the ghetto as a scapegoat."
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message: Listen to his son explain why he wants to drop out and tell me where the quotation marks are supposed to go.
  • Kanye West: We Don't Care: Kanye, on disproportionality: "We scream, rock, blows, weed park/so now we smart/We aint retards the way teachers thought/Hold up hold fast we make mo'cash/Now tell my momma i belong in the slow class."
  • Gil Scott-Heron: Message to the Messengers: OK, so he's talking to rappers, here, but the advice is good for you, too: "Be sure you know the real deal about past situations,/and ain't just repeatin' what you heard on the local t.v. stations."
  • Lauryn Hill: Every Ghetto, Every City: Most of this song was Greek to me when it first came out, but I remember being like, "Yeah! I write my friends' names on my jeans with a marker, too!" -- Even though I didn't.
  • The Coup: I Ain't The Nigga: It's amazing all the alternatives they come up with: jigger, ninja, Niagra Falls ... Just in case you were getting desensitized.
  • Public Enemy: Don't Believe the Hype: Title speaks for itself.
  • Nas: One Love: Nas is having a Hamlet moment. Listening to this track is like reading his notebook, unedited, without the self-aggrandizing Zorro-esque flourishes.
  • Wycelf: Year of the Dragon (Street Jeopardy): This one has it all: braces, fat laces, yellow cheese buses, and after school shootings. Like One Love, it's a made-for-TV-movie of a song that I can't resist, but the real message is that in a violent culture no one is safe--whether they're inside or outside of the "wrong neighborhood."
  • Jeru the Damaja: You Can't Stop the Prophet: OK, so not only is this about a superhero who fights ignorance, but it mentions the library.

I'm tempted to add Ludacris's What's Your Fantasy, for the sake of my college friend who put it on every single mix CD she made (in case of a Ludacris emergency). This means that on one trip to Boston (was that the one when I crashed her car?), I listened to the song 11 times. So I can tell you that it actually does reference education and libraries.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

You Funny, White Girl.

Growing up, I hated being "half Black, half White" because I felt like I didn't belong anywhere. As an adult, my "non-descript" looks have allowed me to fit in everywhere (at least from a racial/ethnic standpoint). If I reference myself as Black, White folks always say, "You're Black!? I had no idea." And I doubt, with my "Black bootie" and wild hair that the little white kids would sing the Barbie song at me (how awful!). I can rap "The Message" with the best of them, and yet I know the lyrics to every song Carly Simon has ever written (thanks, Mom!).

I like your blog - nice to see another Rhode Island librarian representin'!