Racism in my ELT Experience

Racism in Brazil shows its ugly face in some subtle ways – white people like me many times don’t even realize it. I grew up in a white family but at least one of my grandmothers was brown skinned (fruit of white and indigenous relations, I’m told) but she passed when I was seven and I don’t remember her very much. A cousin of mine married a black man back in the 60s and the family despite the initial shock welcomed them (to the best of my knowledge) and they had 3 children – with their own families today. My older brother sometimes would say that black people were lazy or something to that effect, but even he had a very close black friend (who also criticized black people – but that’s another whole story). My wife is light skinned but her father was black and her mother Italian – her siblings are darker than she is – so where does one’s race begin and another’s start? What color is one’s soul?

But talking to one of my students this morning I was made to think about my own experiences as a teacher regarding racism.

My niche market has been for the past 30 years in the business and corporate world, coaching and teaching executives and helping them to brush up their language skills and presentation skills, for example.

In all these years I can’t recall a time I taught a black person, not because of their color, but because of their absence in the corporate world I circulated in. I never had a chance to teach them.

When I had a language consultancy office back in the 90s we hired teachers and translators and 90% of them were white – it’s true but we did have an English black teacher (born in London to Brazilian parents). We also hired two Nigerian teachers and I can’t recall having problems with them due to racism from clients. Sometimes there would be academic or punctuality problems but nothing related to their race, methinks. (Or was the clients’ racism disguised in comments like ” they don’t have a clear accent”, “they’re usually late”, etc).

Now, black or white is a just a matter of skin pigmentation, but the fact that they are not selected to higher positions besides cleaning offices and being the kitchen help is quite disturbing. … Coming to think of it, even the waiters and waitresses working for the boards of directors at different companies and banks tended to be light skinned.

I’m told that in some countries just the fact that a person has one black ancestor (one drop of “black blood”) already makes them black, no matter their skin color. In Brazil that’s not so. Thanks to the miscegenation of races in our country you can find at least “50 shades” of blackness or “negritude”. One can be light-skinned with white facial features and straight hair and their sibling may be darker with curly hair and both although coming from the same social, economic, and educational background, may have had entirely different experiences with racism.

Zero Chillz on Twitter | Different shades of black, Black girl aesthetic,  Black is beautiful
Different shades of black

On a brighter note, people know that money is color blind and Brazilians have been discovering that dark-skinned fellow men and women can also spend money in services and goods.

But we still are far from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream when he declared: “let us judge one another on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin” .

Happy Teachings,

Cheers,

Mo

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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.