#TeacherBae Controversy Reminds Us That Society Loves To Body Shame Black Women

by Emma Bredthauer

Paris Monroe/Instagram

By now you’re probably familiar with the #TeacherBae controversy, but for those who are blissfully unaware, be prepared to fly into a feminist rage. Last week, photos of back-to-school looks posted to Instagram by Atlanta school aide Patrice Brown caused the internet to completely lose its shit. The reason for all the panic? Brown’s well-endowed figure. Following a predictably racist and sexist pattern, some Twitter users made it their mission to sexualize, police, and body-shame Brown for her posts. 

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 10.57.19 AM

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 10.52.06 AMvia Distractify; Tweet has since been removed


In a what is a heartening turn, most of the Twitter-sphere has come to Brown’s defense. Some argue that the negative responses to her outfits are racist—that #TeacherBae wouldn’t be getting the negative attention if her appearance were closer to Eurocentric beauty ideals.

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 11.00.27 AMvia Twitter

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 10.58.59 AMvia Twitter

Others argue that it isn’t #TeacherBae’s fashion choices drawing ire, but her body itself is, as this widely favorited and retweeted post does:

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 11.01.38 AMvia Twitter

Lasha at Ebony expands on this idea, reminding us of the uncomfortable history behind the hypersexualization of black women’s bodies– a history rooted in slavery-era ideas that functioned to shift the blame of sexual exploitation away from slaveholders and onto enslaved people.

“We have been accused of using our bodies as bait for centuries, blamed for the customary sexual abuse and exploitation heaped on our collective sistren from slavery until now,” Lasha writes. Her argument recalls the work of Deborah Gray White, historian and author of the groundbreaking 1985 book Arn’t I A Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. In it, White makes the claim that One of the most prevalent images of black women in antebellum America was of a person governed almost entirely by her libido, a Jezebel character. In every way, the Jezebel was the counter image of the mid-nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady…Many antebellum Southerners were convinced that slave women were lewd and lascivious, that they invited sexual overtones from white men, and that any resistance they displayed were mere feigning.” In this context, the #TeacherBae controversy isn’t just about fashion choices being “appropriate” vs “inappropriate”—it’s about society’s continued dehumanization of black women and the devaluation of black women’s lives.

In light of all this ugliness, how has the Atlanta Public School system responded to the #TeacherBae controversy? Not by acknowleding the racism and sexism behind the Twitter firestorm, but by reprimanding her. The Grio reports that Brown has been “given guidance regarding the APS Employee Dress Code” and her “use of social media.” 

Thankfully, #TeacherBae hasn’t let the overwhelming scrutiny knock her down— as of two days ago, she posted this photo to her Instagram:

Screen Shot 2016 09 26 at 11.03.32 AMParis Monroe/Instagram

You go #TeacherBae. Twirl on them haters.

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