Last week, a video circulated online that showed Patrick Harris showing a group of his D.C. Public School students how to properly wear a du-rag. Most who watched it saw a pleasant exchange between mesmerized first graders and a teacher giving them an extra life lesson. So, we talked with Harris to learn more about the video and what motivates his work.
“The du-rag thing was not something that I wrote a lesson plan for,” said Harris exclusively to The Black Youth Project. “It wasn’t that I even thought about doing it. It’s something that happened authentically. I definitely will continue to embed those lessons inside my kids’ schooling experience just because it’s a part of who I am. It’s a part of my Black experience and I want to be able to share that with them.”
The interaction between Harris and his students was actually the result of him already going the extra mile as an educator. To commemorate the 100th day of school, he decided to dress up as “the cool grandpa” – which would explain the gray in his beard despite only being 24 years old.
After getting to the cafeteria a bit early, one of the kids asked Harris, “What’s that on your head?,” referring to his du-rag. He decided to give them a lesson then and there after they only seemed to have more follow-up questions as a co-worker recorded it.
— Patrick (@PresidentPat) February 8, 2017
The clip, which now has more than 20,000 retweets, soon fostered a discussion about the importance of Black educators, especially in classrooms full of black students. Harris, himself, is a supporter of teaching children racial pride at an early age to lead them to have success later in life.
“I just think the more that I have a chance to put a positive spin on parts of their culture, on pieces of Black culture, will benefit them and will continue to help them as they grow older,” he said.
Unfortunately, not all of the comments in response to Harris’ du-rag lesson were positive. Some faulted him for teaching them how to be “thugs” or “preparing them for jail” as if a piece of silk fabric could be so powerful.
These critics seemed to miss a couple key things, though. First, Harris is clearly also wearing a suit in the video, which would surely counteract whatever “thug” impression they thought he was looking to make. Second, du-rags were never exclusive to “thugs.” Only associating them with a criminal lifestyle is continuing a tradition of painting things meant exclusively for Black people as negatives and inherently deviant.
“We are not one thing,” said Harris. “People who wear suits wear du-rags!”
That they do. And, shocker, it’s even possible to do both at the same time, as he cleverly pointed out he was doing in the video.
“Me and my students have a phenomenal relationship,” Harris said. “So, their first experience with a du-rag was with a teacher who they admire. And it was a positive one and they know the purpose of it and how to use it and they know that it’s not connected to any racist connotations.”
While he’s only been teaching for two years, Harris has wanted to do just that ever since he was a first grader in the metro Detroit area. Once he told his family of his aspirations, Santa suddenly stopped bringing him action figures and started bringing him chalkboards and teacher’s edition textbooks.
Despite this, he still decided to major in communications when he first enrolled at Michigan State University, but soon rediscovered his calling and switched to early childhood education.
Now, a handful of years later, Harris is a shining example of why there’s a need for more black educators. Especially in the times of Betsy DeVos serving as U.S. Secretary of Education.
“Just by me being in a classroom, as a black teacher, is a form of resistance. My students coming to school everyday and showing growth is resistance,” said Harris. “Public schools have been under attack for many, many years now and public school teachers have been under attack for many years. That’s exactly why I wanted to be here because I know the importance of public schools because we know who is attending those public schools, right?”
Hopefully more teachers will follow the example of Harris and many other wonderful educators and help foster in an amazing generation.
Photo Courtesy: Patrick Harris