You know what?
I’m tired of people thinking that racism in the workplace isn’t actually a problem unless someone burns a cross on someone’s desk or yells, “Hey, nigger!”
Honestly. The signs of bigotry don’t have to be that obvious in order to be harmful.
When it comes to claims of racism and believability, writing about teaching has taught me a valuable lesson. The rumours are true: When you confront people with racism in an institution, some of them would rather be defensive than listen to what you have to say. It’s very easy for your words to be dismissed as a lie or exaggeration.
I discovered this after I shared some of my experiences in trying to break out beyond the boarders of substitute teaching, into the profession’s full-time fields.
Most of my feedback revealed a basic understanding that what I claimed was possible. However, some disagreed with me based purely on their privileged perspective.
Although I’m frustrated, I’m also not a fool. I don’t know how to make a stranger understand how problematic racism is in teaching. Especially when they’re not interested in grasping the possibility.
Racism is so pervasive within the profession that the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators commissioned a study on it. Participants were anonymous. Yet in “Voices of Ontario Black Educators” (published on May 29th, 2015) they shared their insights regarding diversity in the educational community.
Let’s take a look at a commonly understood truth. Regardless of background, many teachers know the profession is prone to having a cliquish culture. Teaching is a people-driven industry. In certain schools if you want to progress, you need to be perceived as a part of the “in” crowd. Those of us who are on the margins can find it hard to traverse that line. Or, as one individual stated, “[A school’s] networks tend to exclude Black and other educators of colour. Compounding the effect of being excluded from these networks is the limited ability of Black and other racialized educators to create their own networks with the same reach and impact.”
Some of us are hyper-aware of the consequences of being an outsider. As one study participant said, “…if you are not part of the social scene outside of the school, you are not going to be chosen, recommended, included in the ‘outside of school’ discussions when transfers, new staff lists, new school hirings are being discussed.”
During those “‘outside of school’ discussions” critical decisions are being made. When your success depends on your social connections, yet your connections do not exist, you can wind up feeling as though your career is doomed. And that feeling is not that far from reality.
What about those who are able to progress? Surely they do not have any reason to be concerned. Some would disagree. As an educator cited in the study explained: “When I became a VP there was a stalling of my career for a number of years. I had a hard time moving to principal. I had to go through twice. One superintendent openly stated that she did not believe the experience that I had stated. I asked for an explanation and was not given one. I found that I had to stay quiet or risk not being promoted.“
Fifty-one percent of the study’s participants noted that “personal biases about Blacks influence promotion decisions in this board”. We, Black teachers (and other teachers of colour) are aware of how our colleagues perceive us.The fact that we risk not being taken seriously because of those perceptions is demoralizing.
Limited representation in the classroom suggests to me that Black teachers are rarely given room to obtain permanent opportunities. If and when they manage to slip through the cracks, they’re denied the chance to be promoted. As indicated in the above quotes, they may find their careers stymied in other ways. For instance, consider the examples I mentioned in my previous essay: Being relegated to substitute-only status, or repeatedly made to work with hostile students. Some of said students may be intimidating or even dangerous, depending on the school itself. I know that I am not the only teacher who has experienced this. Whether people choose to believe it or not, students’ behaviour can affect a person’s ability to teach.
In the end, I know that my words can’t change people’s minds. They will either believe that what I’ve discussed is possible, or not. But when random members of an ethnic group collectively notice negative patterns concerning how they are regarded, that’s a problem.
Every teacher faces challenging circumstances. Yet I feel that my research, along with the feedback I received only managed to reinforce my main point. Even (some) white teachers notice a disparity between how they are treated versus their more-melaninated peers. I’m thankful for their candor. Those who insist that racism doesn’t exist in the teaching profession are in denial.