We recently read your article entitled DEI & Me: An Opinion. Thank you for sharing your unique experience as a leader in an international school. As educators ourselves, we think it is crucial to continuously reflect on our craft and educate ourselves – this is how we can provide the most inclusive and equitable environment for our students.
As a Head of Early Years, we believe that you have a high level of influence and responsibility for how students understand and view a world that could truly be anti-racist. For that reason, we would like to ask you some questions about some of the opinions you stated in your piece. We would like clarification on your thoughts and self-reflection process:
- ”As I reflect on my personal journey and experiences with regard to racism and sexism as an educator in international schools around the world.”
What is your experience concerning racism and sexism? How did that shape you as a leader?
- “The fact that we continue to label each other as “white,” “Black,” “Asian,” “male,” “female,” etc. is a practice that concerns me for two reasons. For one, it oversimplifies who we are and therefore disconnects us with the cultural uniqueness and many personal perspectives that we bring with us.”
White Supremacy is the source of these labels. Racism is a social construct created hundreds of years ago to justify the enslavement of Africans. Ibrahim X. Kendi does phenomenal work explaining this painful history in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Here is a synopsis.
The acquisition of gender labels is also a social construct that has very real consequences on people’s lives. The problem is not the way we label each other but the fact that we refuse to acknowledge the serious consequences these social constructs have had on the way humans perceive themselves. We completely agree that each human is unique and brings their own perspective. However taking a color-blind and gender-blind approach renders the experience of historically marginalized people invisible and invalidates the oppression they face regularly. White Supremacy has been, to use your words, pitting “one group over another and therefore perpetuating the Us vs. Them mentality.” Acknowledging the presence of these labels in our societies first is the only way to dismantle the systems of oppression. Due to the hegemonic spread of American culture and curriculum in international schools, we suggest that you read the 1619 Project. It is brilliant in explaining how the remnants of slavery manifest in the racist world in which we currently live.
- “I did such a great job at assimilating as an American”
Could you please explain what you mean here? How do you perceive the assimilation of an immigrant to the United States? Your statement also reminded us of a segment John Oliver did on Last Week tonight. White Supremacy often creates this illusion of POC exceptionalism to, as you mentioned earlier , “pit one group of people against another.” This article talks about how skillfully that was established with one marginalized group in the United States.
- “as an American expat experiencing a foreign land myself.”
Could you provide more details on how you used this lens to self-reflect on your experience and to reflect on the anti-racist work you are doing?
- “Growing up in the U.S., you were either white, black, Asian, or other. But, outside of the US, people did not think in terms of the color of their skin.”
We perceive this statement as a generalization. We realize that this could have been your experience – could you elaborate more on that? As far as the second sentence is concerned, it is simply not accurate. Please browse the Global Census website, which demonstrates how other countries around the world categorize people by race, ethnicity, or ancestry.
- “To group people from all different backgrounds and countries into their skin color is stripping away their identity and over-simplifying the complex issues of -ism. (racism, classism, sexism, etc.)”.
We completely agree that people should not be reduced to their skin color. It seems as though you are advocating for a culture of colorblindness (please correct us if we misunderstood your point). These two things are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, this is what White Supremacy has done for centuries. Historically marginalized people have attempted to reclaim their identity by reclaiming these labels. Again, the social construct of race has put people in boxes. To acknowledge the oppressive consequences of these boxes, we must look inside said boxes to learn from them. Simply saying, “don’t label me with a color,” will not lead to the dismantling of centuries-old systems. The identities of People of Color have already been stripped and they will continue to be stripped as oppressive structures remain in the foundation. Reclaiming these labels and making them fit into our own identity is what will empower marginalized people. Because of the lived experience of many People of Color, our race has become part of our identity. When we deny that is when we “oversimplify the complex issues of -ism.”
Moreover, most of these terms (or labels) are about a power structure. We, too, would love to live in a post-racial society where our skin color is meaningless. Unfortunately, we are far from being a part of that utopic world as we are conditioned to think otherwise.
- “From that point forward, I made a real effort to take that lens off and making sure to not label people that which over-simplifies them as individual, whether it be skin color, race, gender, etc. I wonder if my fellow educators can shift the lens themselves and discontinue the spreading of such practice where we oversimplify each other with “labeling.”
We would love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Our stance is that to deny people’s race, gender, etc., is to invalidate their experience in the world. As educators, validating our students’ identities is part of how we empower them. Educators did not create these labels – we are simply attempting to dismantle them by helping our learners to love themselves and counter some of the white supremacist messages they receive daily. This article does a decent job explaining the consequences of the color-blind ideology, which you seem to be arguing in your piece.
- “why educators would continue to use language such as “colored educators” and “white educators””
We believe the term to be “educators of color.” This article may help you reflect on why the phrase you chose to use is archaic.
- “I wonder if it is time for us to move past the practice of skin color labeling and simply discuss how we can all be more inclusive”
Absolutely! As soon as the hate crimes, systemic oppression, and constant microaggressions cease, then we can move towards a post-racial society where skin color has no bearing. Unfortunately, we are far from that ideal. Inclusion starts with accepting the experiences and realities of historically marginalized people living in a world created for white, straight, cis-gendered males.
- “The DEI movement is the current trending topic and is a topic that many educators are passionate about. However, I urge our fellow educators to reflect on our embedded behaviors before perpetuating a practice that is no longer effective.”
Can you elaborate on what you mean by DEI “is the current trending topic”? As educators of color, we embody DEI as values because they are inherently linked to our lived experience. Authentic educators bring their experiences to the classroom; therefore, DEI is not a trend for many of us. Carnegie Mellon University gave early signs of such “a trend” since the early 1900s. And the NAACP, established in 1909, is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
In the conclusion of your piece, you “urge educators to reflect” – this is definitely a practice we can get behind as it allows us to grow. Could you give us examples of how you reflect on your “embedded behavior” and what practical solutions you use as a Head of Early Years to stop perpetuating the practices you deem “no longer effective”?
Overall, you seem to advocate for less labeling of people throughout your article but applaud your white friends for wanting to label themselves more with their country of origin, lineage, or even hobbies. Could you please clarify your thinking on that? In addition, we wonder if People of Color in New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and Ireland would react similarly to your white colleagues – we would love to hear your thoughts on that as well.
Thank you again for writing a thought-provoking piece that allows all of us to reflect as educators on the meaning of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are happy to organize a video chat to discuss any of the above. Our intention in sending this to you is to help our BIPOC community reflect on how we can dismantle racism – we hope you feel called into our ecosystem.
Rama & Nayoung
How are you doing? It sounds like you have been through some hellish experiences. I am so sorry you were not offered the position in London, and that the people in China are acting out their racist beliefs. Do not worry though, at the risk of sounding trite, I must say, what is your will come to you, and it will be a damn site better than what you are currently experiencing. In the meantime, take care of yourself!! Pamper yourself. Nourish yourself, and be very, very good to yourself. Paint, watch movies, listen to your favorite podcasts, buy expensive jewelry online… Do whatever makes you feel good and make your partner cook all the meals!
I am feeling full of vim and vigour after completing my morning run and making myself a gorgeous breakfast of turkey ham, French bread, well-done scrambled eggs, and fresh passion fruit juice and coconut juice mixed together. I was even going to eat a large slice of plain cake as we call it here in the Caribbean, but I figured that would be too much, well, at least for now. That will come later. One would think I would be huge eating this kind of stuff, but to be honest, I have lost 30 pounds in the last two years. Not sitting for endless hours writing my dissertation has helped. Thank goodness my degree is finished and it has not been in vain. I also run and swim regularly, and I fast one day a week. I started fasting for lent, and I feel so much better fasting one day a week so I will continue this practice indefinitely.
This morning I jogged along the south coast, heading south. The scenery is beautiful and I love watching and chatting with the surfers. These people have no fear, and it reminds me to have no fear in life as well. Surfing is a bit too full on for me, but I have pushed through my comfort zone to take stand up paddle boarding lessons. I love this sport and I would like to become good at it. It is important to have sports or physical activities that you love to do. It alleviates the stress of the demanding work we do, and we can build a community with like-minded others to discuss things other than assessments and accreditations. Sometimes I wish I was more of a surfer. Those men and women are super hot and super chill!
Speaking of work, I am not the least bit surprised about your school’s owner’s attitude towards making you the principal. They said no, right? I am sorry that you were not even interviewed after the current principal advocated for you. The owners have taken on the racist belief that white is superior and they want to have a white face representing the school. Staying on and training the new principal is a flat out insult. Do not do it!!!!!!! I will use your term here. You are not a mug!!!
Now, where was I? I decided to eat the cake after all. Man was it good! Let the current principal train the new person. He is paid the big bucks to do so. However, I see he is in a weird position too. Racism affects everyone. He is basically being used for his white face. I would hate to be hired just for my brown face. That has got to feel uncomfortable. Because of the racism Asians are experiencing in the US and Europe, you would think that the Chinese people in your company would know better and not put up with biased hiring. Those people are so unaware and clearly caught up in their own internalized racism, and sense of inferiority. I could understand it if they wanted to give a local, national person the opportunity to lead the school. Take head of the movie, Get Out, and get out, I say! If you want to be in London, keep applying there, and also apply to schools in other counties that you fancy and are a lot more diverse and welcoming.
As far as incompetence, well, this is everywhere. I am sorry to hear they messed up your paperwork. Again, square things up with this school, and move on when you can do so. Frankly, it is going to take some time to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in international schools. These schools started as elitist, neo colonial entities, and the old while males leading them are not going to want to let others into their ‘Club’. I will never forget my previous head’s comment to me when congratulating me on my first headship. He actually said, “Welcome to the Club”.
So, my friend, it is about time we start our own club, or at least our own way of doing things. I have often been the lone black voice in international schools for over 25 years and so I am going to take advantage of the diversity movement and advocacy championed by groups like the ISS Diversity Collaborative and AIELOC. It is great to not be the lone voice for a change. I also want to support other women by mentoring them and by hosting retreats for female education executives, when it is safe to travel again. By the way, feel free to start calling yourself an education executive because you are.
Finally, if your heart tells you it is time to move on, honour that. I just encourage you to take the time to select the best option for you. You do not have to accept the first thing offered. You will get there! We all will in time.
We take this moment to honor the lives of
Soon Chung Park
Hyun Jung Grant
Young Ae Yue
We hold their families and friends up as they process the tragic grief and loss of their loved ones who were victims of a senseless racist attack
We also take this time to commemorate the other victims killed and critically injured that day:
Delaina Ashley Yaun
Paul Andre Michels
Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz
We hold space for other APIs who are recent victims of police brutality and hate crimes fueled by racist propaganda, pandemic fears and ignorance. Angelo Quinto, Xiao Zhen Zie, Noel Quintana, Vichar Ratanapakdee and the approximately 3800 individuals who are reported victims of violence and verbal abuse this past year
We hold up our brothers and sisters in Myanmar and across the diaspora who are fighting for social justice and their basic human rights
We hold space for our Filipino brothers and sisters who are frontline workers around the globe and dying at alarming rates. Their stories will not remain unheard.
This is a call out to my fellow APIs – whether you’re in America or around the world – do not suffer in silence. Here’s what we can do:
- We need to protect and embrace our elders, our sisters, partners, aunties, and mothers who are overrepresented in the current hate crimes data. Amplify the voices and cries for help of the API elderly and women and take action.
- We need to keep reporting incidents of hate to law enforcement and trusted organizations. The data fuels recognition and acceptance that change has to happen.
- We need to shed the mask of the model minority and the perpetual Other to make sure our voices are not only heard…but listened to.
- We need to acknowledge our complicated relationship with white supremacy – how it’s hurt us and helped us get ahead at the expense of hurting Black and brown communities. Let us not forget that March 16, 2021 marks the tragic deaths of 8 people in Atlanta and it is also the 30th death anniversary of Latasha Harlins in LA…shot and killed by Soon Ja Du over some convenience store apple juice.
- For those outside of our community – whether you’re a co-conspirator and/or in a position of power – we need you to understand that we’re not a monolith. Each individual group has unique experiences and stories that make up the Asian and Pacific Islander umbrella.
- We need to support our students and faculty in processing feelings and emotions that may come up as they hear about these incidents around them.
- We need to push for faculty, admin and curriculum that serve as windows and mirrors of our diverse experiences
For those who stand with us – thank you. For those who have been hurt by us – there is nothing that we can say or do to roll that back or take away the pain. Know that there are those of us who are shouldering the burden of working with our own to help our communities understand the impact the model minority myth and white supremacy has had on us. That work is on us and not for anybody else to bear.
Jessica Huang and I are co-facilitating a group for AIELOC API educators. We invite those who identify as API educators to sign up by emailing AIELOC and we’ll get the details out to you.
There are also a variety of resources on how to support the API community:
Stop AAPI Hate: https://stopaapihate.org/
European Network Against Racism: https://www.enar-eu.org/
Learning for Justice: https://www.learningforjustice.org/the-moment/march-15-2021-addressing-antiasian-bias
Combatting Anti-Asian Bias: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/11/combatting-anti-asian-racism
Kanlungan honoring and collecting data of Filipino frontline workers: https://www.kanlungan.net/
UK End the Virus of Racism: https://www.endthevirusofracism.com/
Who I am
I am a black educator employed at a top tier international school. I have built a future for myself thanks to this teaching post. My children go to the school I teach in, for reduced tuition fees. I am
also deeply grateful for the opportunity to teach fabulous students from all over the world. These are some of the reasons why it is a teacher’s ultimate dream to work where I do.
What Happened to me
I joined my current international school post over 10 years ago. It was a breakthrough in my career. Understandably, I did not pay attention straight away to the fact that there were just a handful of
black teachers amongst an overwhelmingly white faculty. At the beginning, all was well. Spontaneously, I became everybody’s ‘sunshine’. Colleagues complimented me on my colourful clothes, my extravagant hairstyles and my commitment to smiling and spreading positive vibes. A feeling of isolation only kicked-in a few years down the line as my fellow black colleagues moved on,
often replaced by white educators. No matter how committed you are to creating relationships wherever you are, the loneliness of having no one who looks like you, starts to take a toll. My
children also brought stories of playground and classroom racism from school but I thought that building my children’s resilience was my one and only option.
Soon I became simply annoyed by the constant need for me to code-switch. The jokes, the news discussed, the experiences shared by everybody, everything seemed to sideline me in one way or another. I felt like an outsider at work. I was a visible and a cultural minority in a context where I shouldn’t have been, at least not so drastically. As a matter of fact, I repeatedly noticed prospective black teachers that I thought would be excellent additions to our team, not coming back after their interviews. Black candidates were hitting the proverbial glass ceiling…
I was torn between enjoying my luck and fearing for my job security if I dared to speak up about the school’s racist recruitment practices. Feeling ‘othered’ at work made me sleep a bit less at night. I was agonising over whether or not I should quit. I decided against it because my children loved their school. I did become more attentive to the racism they occasionally faced there. I no longer hesitated to challenge colleagues or the school administration when my young ones reported incidents to me. tension was building up.
Fortunately, I had access to some black communities outside of school where I was able to feel safe. This is how I kept my sanity. That and the practice of spiritual gratitude. I really tried to keep seeing the good side of things, the light at the end of the tunnel.
What wound up destabilising me was the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement and its impact on international education. The Pandora box of my bottled-up feelings was forced open by newspaper articles and blog posts written by courageous black educators working in international education like me.
The texts of professionals such as Proserpina Dhlamini Fisher
( https://www.tieonline.com/article/2725/racism-in-recruiting-the-elephant-in-our-international-education-room ),
Nunana Nyomi ( https://www.cois.org/about-cis/news/post/~board/perspectives-blog/post/international-education-perpetuates-structural-racism-and-anti-racism-is-the-solution ),
Safaa Abdelmajid ( https://medium.com/@mabrouka ), and more, stirred up painful emotions but also, the merciful feeling of not being alone. In that same period, some of my white colleagues who might have read the same articles as me, started critical conversations with me about the relevance of BLM in international education. In meetings, during lunch, in the corridors, some of them were unleashing strings of daily verbal microaggressions with the intent to make me see the other side of the story, their side . As these co-workers were blissfully unaware of the negative impacts on me of their attempts at wokeness, I made crying in the staff toilets my secret routine.
I had always known there was racism at school but I attributed it to ignorance. After the surge of BLM, I would start to notice guerilla tactics, avoidance moves, and resistance to change. I was not ready for that. The school leadership had understood that talking about race could no longer be deferred. Our coloured students were speaking-up about racist experiences at school. Their
parents were joining in. So the institution had to take a public stance. First of all, there was the p.r. on the website and communications, literally inundating the community with proof that the matter was being addressed. Surveys about people’s experiences with discrimination, presentations in staff meetings, sharing groups etc. it looked all good on the surface.
I saw this as my opportunity to speak up too. I did so on social media, and informally, at work, sharing articles, bringing risky topics into casual conversations. I wanted the school community to reflect on so many questions: why are we not recruiting more black educators? What does bias look like in an international school classroom? Why do students need their names well-pronounced? How come black and coloured boys are statistically more likely to be unjustly disciplined by their teachers? I even expressed my interest in presenting to the leadership of the school on the issue of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I thought my personal story could help make things right. But my messages to the school administration were answered very coldly and that hit me like a closed fist. In my short-lived enthusiasm, I had underestimated white fragility. I started to understand how I could be seen as a problem for the image of the school. I was an angry black woman, my impact
needed to be curbed to leave way to a slow process of awareness, without pressure to deliver anything concrete anytime soon. I often heard the following sentences in discussions. ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint.’ or ‘the most important is to raise awareness. In the meantime I was witnessing the following types of behaviours on the ground:
– A teacher who used the N word in class, and publicly dismissed the importance of racial incidents that happened at school was put in charge of a major anti-discrimination project while parents, students and myself had voiced concerns about the prejudices of this individual.
– When my name was proposed in meetings to lead anti racism efforts, the school management remained silent. In the meantime other institutions came to me for support in the exact same domain
– After making it clear to the school leadership that I am very enthusiastic about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I saw another person recruited on this mission without it being previously advertised. The person was less experienced than me and not black, and therefore less ‘threatening’ maybe?
– A group of disgruntled parents came together to hold the school more accountable on racism. The school created hurdles to silence them, while keeping the dialogue going on the surface, then officially turned to another anti-discrimination group with no black members and a ‘less angry’ tone ( weaponizing people’s anger when the school caused it in the first place)
– One of my posts promoting antiracism in international schools was re-shared by my school on their own page. They were seemingly endorsing me, while sidelining me in reality.
As a black educator in international education, receiving the cold shoulder from your superiors during the development of the BLM movement is particularly upsetting. Overall, these were strange
times at work. Colleagues were kind enough as a whole. On the surface, I also remained my chirpy happy self but I could not help notice that my new activist posture inconvenienced some of my
co-workers though. A couple of teachers seemed to be avoiding me, others challenged me for being ‘divisive’. Some of my colleagues did sense I might be struggling behind my mask of happiness as my mental health was slowly but surely deteriorating. I was, unknowingly, developing racial battle fatigue. One weekend like another, I broke down at home, in the presence of my family. I was
hospitalised in a psychiatric unit. I am currently still recovering.
Why I am Talking Today
I am writing this testimony anonymously because I fear for my job. However, another reason why I am not giving my name here is because I want international schools around the globe to face the
mirror when they read these words and assess where they presently stand. I have told my own story here but I am certainly not the only one to have experienced what I have described. I want to say to fellow black and BIPOC teachers in international education who have gone through the same grief as me, that they are not alone. Racism in international education is particularly hurtful because it is out of place there. When highly regarded international institutions choose to discourage black teachers from expressing themselves, when they drown our voices through tactics from politics , when school leaders make the choice to work on inclusion at their own slow pace, smiling all the way while we suffer, the people who pay the price are non-white members of the community. The isolation of black teachers is mirrored in the injustice BIPOC students experience due to lack of role models for them, it is exemplified in insufficient curricular representation for non-white children at top international schools.
How we can stop this from happening to black teachers
International schools have been, in the past, spaces where white privilege has prevailed. This status quo is being challenged today by the BLM movement. This momentum should be understood as an opportunity to become even truer to the idealistic missions of international education. There are, in my view, 3 ways to navigate this change positively:
– Embrace racial inclusion without hypocrisy. It is no longer time to focus solely on protecting your school’s reputation through p.r. Instead, you must move forward, courageously, now.
– Empower the BIPOCs who step forward to help lead change in that domain. Rebalancing justice, agency and voice is the way to go. This journey can no longer be about white people showing how woke they can be, or sticking to their racial fragilities.
– Restore trust through a clear long-term vision for diversity equity and inclusion. Educators of colour do not need a temporary band-aid on our traumas and discriminations. We deserve to work in a safe space where regularly reviewed recruitment policies and educational practices confirm that we will never again have to be the voiceless tokens.
How can isolated black teachers keep sane in such toxic, gaslighting environments?
– Don’t despair, instead reach out to others like you across the movement, for, there is an active movement for racial inclusion within international education. Reach out to organisations like ODIS (Organisation to Decolonise International Schools), AIELOC (Association of International educators and leaders of Colour) or International Teachers of colour. They have conferences, resources and safe spaces for you.
– Self-care: racism will not end tomorrow but you could if you keep experiencing high levels of stress
– Share your experience: our voices need to be heard, even by those who are trying hard not to grasp the full picture of what racism looks like in international education today. Our voices are also precious to comfort each other. The echo of us speaking up in turns is in itself an antidote to isolation
Here at the hospital, thankfully, there is only me and my wellbeing. The doctors say they want me to relax, for, I arrived here, distraught and exhausted, even sleep-deprived. I must rest. And yet, a knot is forming in my stomach at the thought of going back to the international school. The idealistic school that rejected my black voice, ignored my pain, disregarded my experience, in such a casual way. I am not sure that I will be able to go back , even though one of my life goals was to grow professionally here, in one of the best international schools in the world!
As I look through my room’s tall windows, I see swallows circling above city rooves. One building seems to particularly appeal to them. It is one with a high steeple. The dark birds are flying around it in a majestic dance, as if they are looking for an opening to get in, but cannot find one. I feel serene here, far away from the tensions of the real world. My expectations for my international school do not seem to matter here. I must say I received a couple of ‘get well soon’ messages from work. People do like and respect me there. There is no shortage of kindness; that has never been the real issue .