by VICTORIA SHOWUNMI
Institute of Education
As I stood in the bathroom about to wash my daughter’s face I noticed that she looked rather unhappy. I stopped what I was doing and asked her what was wrong. The conversation went something like this:
She replied with her normal response of…
“Nothing I am fine”.
“Are you sure? You do not look very happy”.
“Well, I really do not want to be mummy bear.”
I laughed and said,
“Who would want to be mummy bear? It is hard work. So tell me what has been happening”.
“We were divided into groups of four and I was with four girls. We were asked to finish the story of Goldilocks and act it out in class”.
“OK, that sounds good”.
“I wanted to be Goldilocks but [….] thinks that it is her role as she looks like Goldilocks”.
“What do you mean? Explain it to me?”
She went onto to say that there were two White girls one with mousey brown hair and one whose hair was blonde. The other girl was Asian and then she was the Black girl. The other girls seemed to be happy with their roles but my daughter felt that she should have had the opportunity to be Goldilocks. However, she was faced with the challenge that the girl who resembled Goldilocks had always played this role and insisted that it was her right. When one has a closer look at the challenge that my daughter was up against, it was perhaps her first experience of learning to deal with white privilege in such a direct way. The task for my daughter was how was she going to be able to achieve her goal in a way that would not leave the other child feeling upset. The conversation continued…
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, but there is something that I have done”.
“Ok I am listening”.
“As we were writing the story into my rough book I made some changes”.
Listening carefully, I asked her to explain.
“I said that Goldilocks needed to be able to do Gangnam Style (a dance single by the South Korean musician, PSY)”.
I turned my head and looked and said,
“Wow that is so clever. Can the other girl do Gangnam style?”
“No, mummy that’s why I did this”.
“Ok, let’s see what happens”.
As a middle class child my daughter learned through the different messages what whiteness is, and drawing on her cultural capital she realised how she could use ‘culture’ to interrupt the stream of whiteness pervading in the classroom; hence the dance.
by UVANNEY MAYLOR
University of Bedfordshire
I first heard about this story some months ago and I could not quite believe it at the time, that such an event happened in school in the 21st century. The story of Goldilocks and the three bears was first published in 1837. It is such a well known fairytale that without being told anything about Goldilocks we can all picture Goldilocks as being a White girl with blonde hair. But who is to say that Goldilocks should always be represented by a White, blonde girl? What are teachers saying when they allow their selection of texts and actions to reinforce such a stereotyped image? What is extraordinary about the conversation re-told above is: why shouldn’t any child of Color have an equal opportunity to play Goldilocks? Indeed, why is the Black child designated to be mummy bear; the server? Why does it take a 10 year old child’s conversation with her mother to make us question the roles particular children are chosen to play in primary school? It is questions such as these and subsequent analysis which is missing from pre and in-service teacher discourses and professional development.
This young girl learnt at an early age through the teacher and peer discourses she encountered what whiteness is and how it is conveyed and reinforced in the classroom. She was astute enough however, to understand that if she wanted to perform the role of Goldilocks she would have to make the role her own. She opted for Gangnam style; a style which she was knowledgeable enough to know that none of her classmates would have felt comfortable playing. As such, she learnt how to navigate whiteness by using cultural difference to challenge whiteness and educational entitlement. But should Black children have to go to such extremes to get their voice heard?
When Shakespeare wrote his plays in the 16th century female parts and roles were played by men. Today those same roles and parts are performed by women. Interpretations of Shakespearian plays and actors performing the varied roles have also changed with time, such that Lenny Henry (a Black male) was acclaimed for his performance of Othello in 2009; a role previously played by White males (BBC News, 17 February 2009). If interpretations of revered classical Shakespearian plays can change, why cannot teacher conceptions and the texts or stories they use change to be inclusive of all the children in the classroom?
It is important that teachers value the multiethnic nature of Britain, and comprehend that even if classrooms in their particular school are predominantly White, the curriculum offered should encompass student ethnic diversity. Above all, an entitlement curriculum is not only for White children.