A small anecdote from my time as a teacher at a top independent school. My under 15 cricket team was travelling to an away game on a coach and, as I was sometimes wont to do, I travelled in the back. I did this to talk to the boys about the game and anything they wanted to talk about (you also did it because you didn’t want another chat about the importance of data with the head of teaching and learning – Ed). There was a speaker that was blasting out Skepta’s Shutdown, and the captain of the team, a lovely young boy from a good family, looked me dead in the eye and recited every single lyric.
You haven’t lived until you’ve had a 14 year old boy look you in your eye and say “you say you don’t eat pork, don’t eat pussy? Liar you’re just an actor” (he couldn’t countenance saying “a actor” like Skepta does. Good grammar was too important to him). After the song had finished, he asked me, and this is a direct quote, “What do you know about Skepta?” He said it with what he thought was an “urban” London accent so that it came out as a challenge. I smiled and responded “very little” before moving back to the front, choosing to engage in a conversation about the importance of good data, whilst Stomzy’s Shut Up was being sung by the entire team.
I was reminded of that story when I read that the headteacher of Mill Hill School had resigned after the school was hired out to musician Stefflon Don to record her video Pretty Girls. Per the Huffington Post article, the governors denied:
…that [the headmaster’s] decision to step aside was a direct result of the video, the school announced that she was leaving due to “a difference of views between the governors and head about the most effective way to lead and manage the foundation”.
Mill Hill charges up to £33,000 a year. It is a day and boarding school set in 150 acres of parkland. It looks like a quintessentially British school. The school is proud of its musical prowess, hosting “The Mill Hill Proms” where:
The orchestra opened with The Theme from Star Wars, followed by excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. The Glee Club, Camerata, Soloists, Chapel Choir, Wind Band, Combined Jazz Bands, Shout Band all performed exciting, light-hearted repertoire before the Massed Musicians led the audience in choruses of Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, and Jerusalem. The evening was polished off with the themes from the 1812 overture with ‘cannon’ provided by parents and friends.
The event was a huge success; a perfect musical end to a musical year.
The music of Stefflon Don is not likely to be played at the last night of the proms, although it is very likely to be played in the dorm rooms of Mill Hill students. Why would the headmaster hire out the school for an international recording artist?
Independent schools are businesses. Pupils pay to be there and if the numbers drop the future of the school is at stake. The credit crunch led to the closure of many independent schools and others have cast their nets wide to ensure their survival, inviting pupils from all over the world and opening up international schools. Without these revenue streams, many more schools would have closed. I don’t know how much the school charged to hire out their grounds to Stefflon Don, but she has over 350 million views on YouTube, so I’m willing to assume it was a significant amount.
The governors, through a spokesperson also said they:
…are investigating how a highly inappropriate film was allowed to be made at the school,” they added. “We include in all hire agreements the requirement that parties should not bring the school into disrepute, and we are seeking legal advice on the matter.
Highly inappropriate? How? There is a profile shot of Stefflon Don just coming out of a shower with her bum showing and the actors are clearly older than school age and wear their shirts in a way that exposes their midriff, but “highly inappropriate”? Not in a world where Miley Cyrus swung butt naked on a wrecking ball it’s not. Having watched the video a couple of times, it reminds me of a Carry On film. The palette is colourful, almost to the point of comically garish and the shots in the video are playful, not sinister by today’s music video standards. I’m not going to talk about the lyrics because Stefflon Don performs the song in a Jamaican patois and I am 100% certain the governors have no idea what she is talking about.
There’s a lot of dancing in the video and it is this that I think has drawn the ire of the governors. Don has crossed a mythical line that black women are punished for. Kelechi Okafor explain it here:
[Black women] have to be funny. And accessible. And sexual. But not too sexual. Honest. But not outspoken.
Shower scene…cleavage exposed…twerking. Don was too sexual. It was highly inappropriate*.
That headmaster resigned because she saw (I believe) a chance to make a significant amount of money for the school. The governors called the video highly inappropriate, as if it’s something that should be kept away from their children and their school. But I’d bet a good amount of money that her music is already in their school, being played by students who swear and, shock horror, smoke weed.
Going back to that coach journey with my cricket team, why did I pretend that I didn’t know Skepta? Why did I always harp on about my love of opera but never utter a peep about my love of hip hop, garage and grime? Because, like so many BAME people, I’m a black belt code switcher. My blackness made me “exotic”, but I feared that my embrace of too much (my own) “culture” would be a mark against me with my colleague. So I would often appear out of touch and have students try to “teach” me how to twerk, or “introduce” me to artists like JME and Wiley. Twerking, JME and Wiley are important parts of my cultural identity, but I felt like open and enthusiastic encouragement would have been seen as…what’s the phrase…
Have a great weekend.
* Some may ask why I haven’t mentioned the swearing, drug use or excessive makeup. Because I worked at an independent school for 6 years and those things were there in abundance.