There are few cyberspaces that make me as grateful for the Internet as Black Twitter. From the nostalgia to glorious shade to rallying cries for justice, Black Twitter is the virtual cookout where all things Black are discussed, dissected and roasted. Sometimes it’s therapeutic. Most times it’s hysterical. And sometimes it’s disappointing.
This weekend, when a photo of Atlanta-based fourth grade teacher, Patrice Brown, went viral, was one of those more disappointing times. Brown, wearing a form-fitting, knee-length pink dress was dubbed #teacherbae by Twitter, obviously for her curvaceous figure and pretty face. Twitter users weighed in quickly, many deciding that Brown’s attire was unequivocally inappropriate for the classroom. While the hashtag is undeniably hilarious, the sexualization and objectification of this young, vibrant woman, the baseless corruption and interrogation of her professional reputation and the unfathomable insinuation of irresistibility to her students, is anything but.
The historical hyper-sexualization of Black female bodies is well-documented. The perceived morality of Black women has always been a moving target which arbitrarily assigns points to our every action and natural construction, tallying them to decide our worth. That worth is intrinsically tied to our physical desirability, even more so than our non-Black counterparts, as Black women’s historical role in white supremacy has always been that of laborer and/or sexual servant.
The formulas for these calculations of Black female worth are constantly changing. In one instance, Black women are praised for ample hips and bottoms. In the next, we are shamed for displaying those attributes. We have been accused of using our bodies as bait for centuries, blamed for the customary sexual abuse and exploitation heaped on our collective sistren from slavery until now. Our bodies have served as blank canvases to be sketched and painted with whatever narrative best suits the composer’s agenda.
On the one hand we have been relegated to mindless, emotionless victims, hypnotizing unwilling men with our seductive dance. On the other, we have been demonized as shrewd, calculating vixens, trapping and disarming our victims with our unmatched sexuality. Then, we have also been mocked as unattractive beasts burdened by callipygian structures and unfit for any role outside of quiet, yet jovial subservience. And most relevantly, we are accused of a narcissism that dictates the constant centering of our bodies, and consequent sexuality, no matter the setting.
Brown has been victim of the latter. Strangers have deduced from a few pictures that her own supposed obsession with her body’s desirability prevented her from making better choices about her classroom attire. Never mind that this Black woman has followed the path sold to us as the key to success, completing college and securing an honorable professional position. Never mind her enthusiasm for teaching, and presumably her students, is as evident as her fashion sense. For some, what is most remarkable about this woman, a Black teacher in the same state where several Black teachers were sentenced to decades in prison for falsifying test scores, is that her outfits accentuate her frame.
But perhaps most troubling about this woman’s attire being labeled “too sexy” for teaching is that she is serving nine-year-old children. The idea that fourth graders possess such ravenous libidos that they would be unable to master fractions and the functions of the parts of speech because they’re distracted by their teacher’s hour-glass frame would be laughable if it weren’t so patently disturbing. Surely, it’s the children who matter most, and it’s not them who are obsessing over a teacher wearing a Bodycon dress. The projections of these perversions are surely the result of adult minds thoroughly trained to ascribe carnality to Black female bodies first and always, no matter how the Black women who possess these bodies choose to place them in service. So obsessive are these perversions that their implications to children are not even considered.
Moreover, even if such a disgusting suggestion were palatable, any inappropriate relationship between this dedicated educator and her pupils would require a willingness on the part of Brown to violate every moral and ethical code imaginable. And let’s be honest, Black women aren’t usually the ones being caught with their pants down (pun intended), as teacher after teacher after teacher is prosecuted for raping students. This is not to suggest it is impossible for such predatory behavior to reside in Black women, but to highlight the illogical indictment of Brown’s motives despite no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to prompt such.
And attempts to make light of the situation are still laced with the misogynoir and objectification that started the problem. Tweets joking about how many fathers will happily attend parent/teacher conferences to get a glimpse at the voluptuous teacher only serve to further intimate that Brown dresses for the gaze of others. One Twitter user boasted, “I do not care whether the dress is appropriate or not. All I know is I now follow #teacherbae on Instagram.” I guess conversations about policing and shaming Black women’s bodies, workplace equality and objectification are secondary to ogling this beautiful woman.
Black women are never safe. Classroom or boardroom, we pay for our bodies. Our skirts hugging out curves is cause for counseling with human resources, while our non-Black, less curvaceous counterparts are free to bypass the three-finger test. We are always reminded that our bodies, in whatever space they exist, are being consumed, with or without our permission or invitation. Our performance is tainted by perceptions we may have no hand in shaping.
Brown has virtually scrubbed her Instagram account, which has ballooned to more than 100K followers since she began trending, with just a few pictures (none of her in the classroom) remaining. What remains in her bio is her declaration that she is both an educator and ASU graduate. I’d like to think that would have been a much better reason she was trending in the first place.