Professionalism is a lie, sheltering in place is no exception
The way children are being treated by their schools and instructors is not unlike the way jobs push at boundaries under the frame of growth.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there’s a superficial boundary between professionalism and unprofessionalism that undergirds constant productivity, capital and unhealthy notions of self worth. This boundary exists to reinforce white supremacy, carcerality, punishment, policing and surveillance. The structures that legitimize this faux boundary do so in service of themselves always. All the while arming us with bootstrap logic so that we become excellent at shaming, policing, and informing on one another.
The violent “founding” of “America” is especially responsible for instituting antiBlack and anti Indigenous policies in schools, workplaces and churches. And requiring extraction in perpetuity. The quest for professionalism has influenced policies that inform the unethical treatment of Black, Brown and Indigenous children (especially when they are poor).
Not only does this obsession with appearing professional fortify respectability politics, hierarchy and power hoarding, it also ensures that our children never be seen or understood as fully human. From dress codes in work settings, uniforms in schools, banning certain hairstyles, tattoos, and garments, everything becomes an assessment of who is most worthy of respect, kindness, awards, and grace.
Though some of us are currently working from home, we are expected to set up a professional workplace environment free of the noise and interruption of our children, family members, pets, etc. Our employers, instructors, and peers do not recognize that being invited into our homes, even virtually, is an honor. Our private quarters are not for consumption.
Sheltering in place heightens the expectation that our spaces (and bodies) always be intelligible to audiences, especially when those audiences are white. This craving for intelligibility often misrepresents itself as community, safety and possibility until those values are shrugged off because they’ve become inconvenient for those in power.
Professionalism, work performance and outcomes are regularly determined by those most “equipped” to police them. And while some companies and organizations claim communal processes of accountability, behind the scenes there is no real sense of professionalism. HR managers have sabotaged employees’ transitions to new companies during private dinners where their applications and work performance shouldn’t be discussed. Nepotism is publicly frowned upon and privately encouraged/ rewarded.
The expectation to be social with coworkers inside and outside the office is confusing, especially when happy hours are legitimized and those who don’t attend are scolded. And for some smaller organizations, the culture is represented as a family, which can lead to folks being gaslit into participating in practices that they have no interest in and/or cause them harm.
We have to do away with continuing the lie of professionalism, of claiming our interpersonal relationships and connections have nothing to do with how “well” we do our jobs.
The way children are being treated by their schools and instructors (and sometimes even their parents) is not unlike the way jobs, especially in the non-profit sector, push at boundaries under the frame of growth. The parallels between the constant exhaustion of surveillance in the workplace and children’s experiences with being reprimanded for turning their webcams off is not lost on me.
Instructors want to see that students are present and engaged in the curriculum. In theory, I get that. Knowing whether students are engaged may serve as information on what needs to shift in the classroom, whether that be remote or in person. However, I’m cautious of our incessant need to track everything. The cult of capitalism has invaded our sense of self, purpose, and capabilities so thoroughly that we are unable to separate out why these demands are problematic.
Our work performance, productivity, and ability to meet deadlines say very little about who we are. The emphasis or preoccupation with distinctions such as employed and unemployed, student and non-student, capable human and leech are centered around what this world values instead of the possibilities of refusing imposed notions of worth.
There are reasons outside of a child’s educational performance that they may be uncomfortable with keeping their webcams on. Social anxiety, housing instability, the toll being exposed to screens all day, needing to access different tools for learning and engagement. But I argue that knowing these conditions is not necessary to the overall determination that it’s okay for students to have their cameras off.
The carceral realities that Black children and their caregivers often face in relationship with school policies are centered on punishment, consequences and statistics. These policies lead to more criminalization, policing and boundary violations. White parents are rewarded for lying, bribes, and misconduct. On the rare occasion that these parents are caught publicly, they receive a portion of the consequences that Black parents do (if that).
Shelter in place becomes a microcosm of what children have been dealing with on a daily basis: sexism, adultification, ableism, bullying, discrimination and antiBlackness.
A Black instructor, Citizen McGuire stated, “I understand this is unprecedented times for students, especially students of color and students in low income communities, but we must not lower the bar of excellence.” First, the bar of excellence McGuire references pushes Black children into being twice as good. It perpetuates an unhealthy association with productivity, even when they are not able to meet these subjective barometers of excellence. Folks move quickly to pushes for these performances but rarely ask simple questions such as: Do Black children feel good about themselves? Have they eaten? What might this child need that they are not receiving? Am I capable of identifying who might be able to support?
Surveilling already hyper surveilled communities is not the path to freedom. Expecting children to perform professionalism encourages them to be machines. Why do we keep this lie going?
Folks learn differently. Work differently. Respond differently. Let’s build sustainable practices that recognize these realities instead of pretending they don’t exist. Let’s incorporate work and educational practices that center our rest and reject ones that rely on us being our most exhausted selves in order to be deemed capable.