The Employee’s New Clothes

This weeks guest blog is from Darnell Fine.

It is your first week of school. A colleague saw a cobra behind the middle school cafeteria. He says, matter-of-factly, that your school is within a “jungle.” Another colleague says there is a “jungle” within your school. A path to tropical rainforest just outside the backdoors where kids eat during lunchtime. You can’t tell what’s inside or out when walking through the school. What you can tell: it’s hot as hell. 88 degrees (Fahrenheit – 32 Celsius) year-round.

Your body is saying that you need to decolonize your clothes. Dress shirts with pit stains lose their formality. Khakis become wrinkled after hours of shifting uncomfortably in your desk chair. Wool jackets boxed away. But still, you dress “properly” for the cultural climate of your school but not the seasonal one of this new land.

Etiquette becomes a nervous condition.

“Hi, you must be…”

Another colleague extends their hand to greet you. You extend your own and feel the pool of sweat trapped in your armpit trickle down your ribcage.

You wish more colleagues would confuse you for the other Black person who was hired this year. At least then, you wouldn’t feel obliged to shake hands while correcting them.


Your previous head of school in the UK said you would have to cut off your hair when moving here. It will get “frizzy” she said, fixing her gaze on your already “frizzy” locs.

You did not cut your hair, but perhaps there is a black top hat for you to wear or the Emperor’s clothes for you to don. Something to distract your new colleagues from the fact that your body is trying to decolonize your clothes.

Your edges and new growth running from the pursuing standards of Victorian respectability. But aren’t these nice trousers? They were tailored somewhere in Asia to have a European look so that it appears you have dressed appropriately for gainful employment.

And you ask, “How can we teach who we are dressed in someone else’s clothes?” What parts of your identity do you cover? And in turn, when you are not even comfortable in your skin, what curriculum do you cover? Cover not in the sense of scope and sequence, but cover in the sense of whose stories and whose histories do you cloak with invisibility?

How long before your body rejects its uniform? How long before a uniformed curriculum begins to see the richness of difference? Will it be one afternoon when the heat becomes so unbearable, and your colleagues can discern one Black person from another? Shaking hands at the lunch table in a dress shirt that makes you seem more refined and approachable, will you feel yourself bursting at the seams? Will the stitching of textbooks begin to unravel under a blazing sun?

Will you flee to the back of the cafeteria and run out to the “jungle” like Paul Robeson or Brutus Jones? Strip off the Emperor’s clothes and disintegrate back into yourself…? Will the canon implode into itself? And out of the ashes, create itself a new story that isn’t new at all, but spoken with decolonized tongues that have been silent for too long and written hands that are finally free.

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