Stop Faking The Funk: Peeling Back Another Layer of Whiteness in Education In Order to Get On The 1

In music, the term funk is synonymous with George Clinton and Parliament, James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Lyn Collins, and Chaka Khan among so many other black musicians and artists who have transmitted Africanist musical powers over the airwaves in American music. The funk has African foundations. It is derivative Lafuki, meaning positive sweat! Feeling the funk, engaging the funk, expressing the funk. All indicators of what Prince referred to as True Funk Soldiers. When you see it, hear it, feel it, there is an undeniable recognition of its presence. In the 2013 release of Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, the Band Quiet Storm (who later changed to The Storm) was one of the featured groups who helped pioneer the sound that Prince carried forward and set the world on fire! One of the tracks referenced in the band’s bio was entitled Don’t Fake The Funk. The Lyric was “Don’t fake the funk if it’s not inside of you. Don’t you even waste your time trying to do the do.” Their petition was that all true funk soldiers were to be dedicated and down for the cause if they were going to be in the funkadelic kingdom.

Much like funkadelics, educators must be earnest in their desire to get, and stay on the 1. Over the course of the last several years as educators have increasingly been confronted with our completely separate and unequal academic outcomes in schools, predictable by race, I have noticed a pattern with teachers and instructors in K-12 and higher education in the areas of racial equity and culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP). There are many, mostly white educators who make up a majority of the teaching force, claiming to have taken up racial equity and CRP in the classroom. There is one problem. A whole lot of funk-faking is going on.

The phraseology usually sounds something like this. “I embed culturally responsive teaching in my classroom.” Or, “We use CRP throughout our teacher preparation program in every required course.” Another riff — “I practice diversity and inclusion. I believe all children can learn.” Another glaring sign is when people who claim to be culturally relevant or racially conscious never show up to any events, keynote speakers, or training on these topics. I think my favorite example is when presented with the opportunity to have a true funk soldier (usually a person of color) come in to talk about or teach Critical Race Theory, racial justice, and racial equity, you might hear — “We already teach that in our class/program.” The problem is that these claims do not often match the results of students’ academic and social outcomes.

In some ways it is an astonishing phenomenon to witness. This kind of funk-faking. It leads people into dangerous waters where whiteness begins to take root to the point where folk actually try to front, as if they really are the experts or best practitioners of culturally relevant teaching, racial equity and social justice. It is especially true when black, brown and indigenous racial justice facilitators are met with what I call white silent resistant defense. I have observed white audiences in this state of discomfort. They do not want to appear not to have a handle on how to enact racial justice. Especially if it requires them to go outside of their comfort zone. One reason for this is because it would really challenge their true mindset around the paradigm of equality or liberal colorblind ideology, AKA all lives matter. Afraid to reveal this mindset out loud, they can even go so far as to slip into a very well established practice of stealing intellectual property or appropriating what teachers and scholars of color have contributed. Langston Hughes captured it really well with his poem Note on Commercial Theater.

You’ve taken my blues and gone

You sing ‘em on Broadway

And you sing ‘em in Hollywood Bowl,

And you mixed ‘em up with symphonies

And you fixed ‘em

So they don’t sound like me.

Yep, you done taken my blues and gone.

This category of funk-faking is also thievery. It led some people to accept that Elvis was the king of rock and roll. The faking that allows audiences to take Justin Timberlake as a serious R&B artist or Iggy Azalea as a rapper. For the reverse discrimination police, let me be clear. There are plenty of true funk soldiers who are white! The Average White Band, and Hall and Oats get funky with the best of ‘em. Scholars, too! For example, the evidence suggests that Robin DiAngelo is a true funk soldier when it comes to uprooting whiteness. My point is that true funk soldiers can usually identify one another when they come into contact, no matter what the color. In much the same way, students of color in K-12 and higher education know the difference, too.

Over the years, I have had several conversations with students of color who come to me and express their frustration with a teacher or instructor who they say is “not real”, or “fake.” This also has been the case for equity leaders. This year has been no exception. There are times when students hear their school leaders, professors, and teachers make public statements about practicing social justice and CRP. When this occurs, I always wait to hear the counter narrative from students. They find ways to share their stories. Having been misled for so many years, students of color have developed a heightened sense of emotional intelligence that gives them an ability to discern fairly consistently if someone is faking the funk or not.

I call into question why so many leaders and educators are doing this? In most cases, white educators do not want to appear like they are not inclusive in their teaching and actions toward students of color. They do not wish to be identified as enacting racism or cultural insensitivity. And, because it requires so much learning about not only race, but themselves, they can get overwhelmed (caused by fragility: see DiAngelo). So, they go ahead and fake the funk. They can do it so easily and without impunity because its hard for anyone to directly accuse someone in an educational setting of faking the funk. We assume genuine good will toward one another in the academy. People who are in collegial relationships generally are not going to confront each other in that way. Students are generally not going to challenge their teachers on this for fear of retribution. So, what can be done? Use the actual academic and other outcomes to agitate (with love), uproot, and replant.

As a loving agitator, I encourage. all of us to incline our ears to get on the 1! True funk soldiers should center students’ voices and gather the counterstories necessary for disruption. Allow them to spark you to use storytelling as a foundation for uprooting whiteness by applying mindful inquiry. If the educational outcomes are not measuring up to the claims of practice, ask why? Challenge yourselves and your colleagues whenever you hear statements that sound like funk-faking. Ask what perspective is missing from any claim of “I already do that.” At the very least, you will build up the chops to replant authentic responsive pedagogy from a place of humility and righteousness.

Another way to determine the desire to earnestly pursue getting on the 1 is by how interested a person is in learning more from other social justice practitioners, scholars, and theorists. There is always more to learn and room to grow. Educators must go outside the safe confines of their own privilege in order to truly get into the complex polyrhythmic groove of racial equity and social justice. Be humble enough to acknowledge your own location of identity and privilege. Then seek other perspectives. Especially those who do not share the same privilege as you. Educators — you must find ways to allow students to tell you the truth about your teaching and actions. Remember, the truth will set you free to get on the 1! Act according to what you learn from students. Above all else, understand that you cannot fake the funk! We see you and know who you are!

Interim Dean | School of Urban Education | Metropolitan State University twitter: @tbgroove

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