A teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, is catching online criticism for looking “too sexy” on the job which, once again, highlights the way black women’s bodies are constantly policed for ridiculous reasons.
A picture of fourth grade teacher Patrice Brown went viral on Twitter and Instagram Sunday, accompanied by the hashtag #TeacherBae. In the picture, above, Brown is wearing a form-fitting pink, knee length dress. Initial responses to the photo all hinged on how attractive Brown looks, but backlash came quickly, with some people on Twitter suggesting that she was dressed inappropriately for the classroom.
One user who goes by @breeNaughtyy said: “That teacher looks good af but her attire is just inappropriate to be teaching a 4th grade glass. Little boys are pervs by like 2nd grade.”
The debate over the appropriateness of Brown’s dress is petty, at best, and straight up sexist at its worst. It’s one thing to recognize that Brown has beauty and brains, but the scrutiny and overemphasis on the way she looks rather than what she does speaks volumes. The negative responses are a perfect example of how black women rarely have control over their bodies being needlessly oversexualized in nearly any context.
Another Twitter user pointed out that this is what Brown’s dress looks like on ASOS:
There is nothing inherently unprofessional about the dress. It hits right above the knee and covers the chest completely. So, ultimately, what’s really considered unprofessional here is not the dress but Brown’s curves, her body itself. Why should Brown be criticized and shamed for something she has no control over?
Thankfully, many Twitter users have come to her defense, drowning out the criticism:
While the outpouring of support is nice to see, the initial backlash Brown experienced had real world ramifications. A statement released by the Atlanta Public School system to Fox 5 on Tuesday said: “[Brown] was given guidance regarding the APS Employee Dress Code, the use of social media, and Georgia Code of Ethics for educators, and she has been cooperative in addressing her presence on social media.” As of Wednesday, it appears that Brown has deleted all photos of herself in the classroom from her Instagram.
Did it really have to come to this though? The professionalism of #MrStealYourGrandma and Jamel Fenner, a New York man mistaken for a teacher who has recently gone viral for being fine while wearing tight T-shirts and jeans in a classroom (he goes by “imwhygirlscheat” on Instagram) has not been scrutinized nearly as much as Brown.
Brown’s body isn’t an anomaly. Though not all black women are shaped like her, many black women have those kinds of curves that make it hard to wear anything without people wrongly assuming that you’re trying to be provocative or looking for attention. It’s not their fault. If anyone should be criticized, it’s the people who can’t look at black women and see who they are beyond their bodies.
CORRECTION: A previous version stated Fenner is a teacher; he’s a custodian.