RACISM* IN THE ELT INDUSTRY

You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.

The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.

Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?

Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.

To Sir, with Love

But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.

Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.

We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).

I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.

We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.

Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.

Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.

Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?

All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.

Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.

Skin Tone Color Palette
Skin tone palette

We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.

Cheers,

Mo

*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.

New Year’s in Brazil

Brazilians usually use the French “Réveillon” to refer to our New Year’s Eve celebration. We also say “Festa de Ano Novo” (New Year’s Party) – but not as common as “Réveillon” – usually I hear it pronounced in the French way – /reveion/ but sometimes I hear the word pronounced with the Brazilian phonetics with the L /reveiLon/ this latter sound always tickles me.

To start off, by many Brazilians, I mean São Paulo city dwellers. Brazil is MG_3159-Praia-Grande-Outeirosuch a big and diversified country that even clichés are regional. As I was saying, many people living in São Paulo make plans to go to the beach for New Year’s celebrations. They may travel to Rio or Guarapari; the northern or southern coasts of São Paulo state – São Sebastião or Itanhaém, for example; Florianópolis (further south), but the destination of choice tends to be the seashore with or without seashells or jellyfish but most certainly with loads of people.

Unfortunately, summer – December through March in Brazil – tends to be the rainy season, and despite recent droughts, it usually pours this time of year, so flooding and mudslides are not unheard of. Sometimes roads can be blocked for hours (if you’re lucky) or days (if you’re still lucky)… meaning, you could be under all that mud, rocks and debris. Let’s not forget lightning strikes.  Just this week in just one fell swoop a thunderbolt killed 4 members of a single family seeking shelter under a parasol on the beach in Praia Grande. A sad tragedy indeed.

The first time I was introduced to the beach was when I was 9 or 10… never had seen the sea and rushed away from the waves. Of course, mom didn’t think of using any sunscreen lotion, the protection was the parasol. Got some blisters but survived. Never however liked very much being exposed to the sun – being fair skinned and all, but in my early 20s i started getting more sun tanned. I was already an English teacher teaching at different companies some 25 years ago and I had classes let’s say from 12 -2JDSCpm at company A and then the next class would be at 6pm in another part of town. I had 4 hours to kill. At that time, I lived in the western outskirts of São Paulo near Jaraguá peak – to get from and to my home would take me 90 minutes on average either way, so no point in going home. Had to “kill time” somewhere. There still are very few places you can safely stay free of charge for a few hours in São Paulo – Starbucks hadn’t arrived here yet. The only place I could think of was the campus of my university (USP) – off I’d go. I’d lie down on a bench surrounded by greenery and read or listen to music until the time was up for me to move to my next class. On rainy days I’d have to seek shelter in one of the campus’ libraries. Well… I said all that, because during those years, I developed a healthy sheen and my students would think I was either going quite often to the beach or was a member at some fancy club (nothing further from the truth).

But back to New Year’s in Brazil, since some 2 million people vacate the city, it is possible for you to breathe more freely and find a parking space. Of course, thousands come to São Paulo to visit family or run in the São Silvestre (St. Sylvester) Race. A tradition that takes place on New Year’s Eve. Originally it was held at midnight but TV interests pushed the race to late afternoon. Nowadays the race is held at 9a114805_ext_arquivom on December 31 and the new route has lost all its charm as a street race. Me thinks it’s lost much of its character and tradition, but what do those things matter compared to the money to be made by big media interests? Still many Brazilians enjoy participating in the race, many prepare all year round, young and old run together, many wearing costumes just for the fun and the opportunity to be seen on TV.

After the race, around 2 million (conservative figures) gather on Paulista Ave – formeReveillon paulistarly the business and financial heart of the city, now moving to districts further south) – for the Réveillon na Paulista – with concerts and fireworks at midnight.

Our personal New Year’s Celebration starts at around 7pm – when we go to the IMG_4445Christian Arab Open Community in Vila Mariana (http://comunidadearabe.org.br/) – the year starts not at midnight but at sunset – every family or person brings some fruit or Arab dishes and after a prayer and thanksgiving service we get together, eat and wish a Happy New Year to each other. It’s been our tradition for the past 15 years. We get home before 10pm and toast with a cold glass of white grape juice. Awesome by the way.

Salaam,

Mo

سنة جديدة سعيدة