…For example, when I was making a reference to the rapper Lil’ Wayne in a class, some of my students laughed. One even asked me what I knew about Lil’ Wayne, thinking I was some geek who never heard of him. I explained that Lil’ Wayne has been popular since I was in college in the 1990s, reminding them I had grown up on hip-hop before they were born.
I learned that beyond legitimizing myself as an educator by narrating my professional experiences, I had to walk a fine line between being the Other in the classroom and someone whose experience was in some way similar to theirs. I realize some of my African-American colleagues have a tougher line to walk, which has helped me to understand how identity and cultural experience define the teacher-student relationship.
I also know that I can’t try to be “too hip,” because my students are smart enough to see when their professors are trying too hard to relate to them.
I guess I can’t make any more T-Pain or Drake references in class. At least I can blast my 1990s rap music on the 40-minute drive home, recalling the days when I wasn’t such a nerd.
~Dr. Murali Balaji, “Understanding Identity Politics in a Classroom“